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Wisconsin is trying a novel approach to reducing death by drug overdose


These days, vending machines provide more than just snacks and drinks. Some offer life-saving supplies like Narcan. That's the brand name for a treatment to reverse an opioid overdose. And increasingly, you can find supplies like that in public places such as health centers, libraries and a police station in a Milwaukee suburb. Eddie Morales from member station WUWM has the story.

EDDIE MORALES, BYLINE: Enter the Greenfield, Wisc., police department and just a few steps to the right in the foyer is a vending machine.

LINDSAY FUSS: Right now, we have Narcan. We have Deterra bags.

MORALES: Lindsay Fuss is the public health specialist in Greenfield.

FUSS: Deterra bags are a type of harm reduction where you can put pills, patches or liquids in there, you mix it with water and it deactivates those medications.

MORALES: Fuss says there's a no-questions-asked approach when people use the machine.

FUSS: At the end of the day, these are here to save lives. These are here to support individuals. We are not here to judge or anything of that nature.

MORALES: It was just a few months ago that Milwaukee County officials gathered to unveil the city's first harm reduction vending machine.


DAVID CROWLEY: So I'm going to sign the bill right now.


MORALES: Milwaukee County will spend $11 million in all on projects to reduce drug overdosing. That includes the purchase of 25 vending machines that provide free nasal Narcan, fentanyl test strips and more. It's all part of the effort to beat back a rising number of overdose deaths in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there were more than 80,000 opioid-related deaths in the U.S. in 2021. In Wisconsin, there were more than 1,400 that year. At the police station in Greenfield, over 180 boxes of Narcan and more than 1,000 fentanyl test strips have been dispensed so far.

CHINA DARRINGTON: If I think back to when I was actively using, I would be very hesitant to think maybe somebody was tracking my use of these machines.

MORALES: That's China Darrington. She's the director of advocacy and public policy at Thrive Peer Recovery Services in Ohio. Darrington is also in long-term recovery. She says reducing deaths requires a public health approach, even if people might be cautious about visiting a police station for resources.

DARRINGTON: So the fact that they're being utilized - and then once people use them and they realize they're safe to use, they easily come back. And word spreads amongst that community. The next step is maybe you'll be comfortable enough to actually talk with a human about what your options are at that point, too.

MORALES: Darrington says it's important to treat people with dignity and respect by providing them a safe place to retrieve life-saving supplies. That's why Greenfield chose a police department as its pilot location for the machine. It's an effort to decrease the stigma of getting help.

For NPR News, I'm Eddie Morales in Milwaukee.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eddie Morales

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