The Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition is tackling Milwaukee’s drug epidemic and on Wednesday, August 31, the coalition marked International Overdose Awareness Day. Dozens of people gathered in Humboldt Park to honor survivors and remember those who lost their lives to overdoses.
“Today is about empowering the family and friends of people who have succumbed to the disease of addiction,” said Aaron Lipski, president of the Milwaukee County Addiction Prevention Coalition and also the city of the fire chief of Milwaukee.
He continued, “I just want to acknowledge that and offer my condolences to those who have lost loved ones.”
The city’s fire department plays a major role in overdose response, often being the first responders to those in need.
Aid kits come on every fire truck, ladder truck, paramedic units and every fire station, Lipski said.
If a person needs Narcan or fentanyl test strips, all of those resources are provided to keep a person alive, he added. The Fire Department also offers reprogramming, which can help people move from just surviving to living and thriving beyond addiction.
“One thing that fire departments can offer that very, very few other agencies can offer is instant recognition of brand trust and reliability. It just can’t be found in too many places. and it’s hard won,” Lipski said.
In numbers, he said, the opioid problem has become inevitable.
More than 600 people died from fatal overdoses in 2021 in Milwaukee County, county says overdose data. This represents an increase from the 522 fatal overdoses in 2020.
Debbie Dillman, who was at the ceremony honoring her son Ben, understands what it’s like to lose a loved one to a fatal overdose. Ben overdosed on a combination of fentanyl and cocaine in December 2017.
“I’m just here to honor him and the too many lives lost in this outbreak, and to encourage people to recover and seek treatment, and just to be with other people who understand what this loss feels like for a mother and a family,” Dillman says.
To families, she advises people to stay involved and stay aware. She said letting loved ones know that you understand addiction is a disease and that you support their recovery can save a life.
At the event, Dillman said she spent a lot of time on the memorial quilt – one of the art installations to honor those who lost their lives.
For her, it was an incredible way to honor lost people and those who are recovering.
“To Ben, I’d say I’m so proud of you. You and your efforts were endless. You’re the bravest person I know. I miss you,” she said.