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Vital Strategies Introduces New Harm Reduction Efforts in Wisconsin to Combat Skyrocketing Overdose Deaths

Supported by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative, efforts will expand access to harm reduction interventions, mobilize communities to prevent overdose, and address health disparities among Black and Indigenous communities across the state

Wisconsin – Today, public health organization Vital Strategies announced new efforts to strengthen the state’s response to the overdose crisis. Overdose deaths in Wisconsin have more than doubled in the past 10 years, with opioid-related overdose deaths increasing by 250% in Black communities over this same time period. Indigenous communities in Wisconsin are also disproportionately impacted, experiencing the highest rates of fatal overdose when compared with any other racial groups in the state.

Supported by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative, efforts include providing funding and technical assistance to state and local governments, community-based organizations, and health care providers across Wisconsin to promote a public health approach to support people who use drugs and prevent overdose, as well as bolster existing harm reduction services. The first round of funded projects seeks to:

  • Increase access to harm reduction in rural communities and sovereign nations through partnerships providing naloxone, fentanyl test strips and informational resources
  • Support the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to optimize funding and programming for preventing overdose deaths through expert consultation and staffing support
  • Increase harm reduction services and awareness in and informed by Black communities in Milwaukee

Launched in 2018, the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative works in seven states which have seen particularly high rates of overdose – Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – by promoting evidence-based policies and supporting the implementation of best practices that can be modeled around the country. This support in Wisconsin is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ total commitment of $170 million to date to its Overdose Prevention Initiative.

“We are grateful to Vital Strategies for supporting Wisconsin with these financial resources to continue our efforts in prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery as we work to address our overdose epidemic,” said Kirsten Johnson, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “Working together, we can avoid the loss of life from drug overdoses and help those with substance use disorder on the path to recovery.”

“Every person in Wisconsin deserves access to harm reduction services and we are grateful to partner to strengthen these lifesaving supports,” said Adrienne Hurst, Senior Technical Advisor for the Overdose Prevention Program’s Wisconsin work. “Teaming up with groups on the front lines of the overdose crisis means we can ensure that people who use drugs and those who love them can maintain their dignity and self-determination, an essential part of our efforts to support the people and communities devastated by this crisis.”

“Overdose is the leading cause of death for people under 50, escalating sharply in Black and Indigenous populations, and is entirely preventable. We know that with political will, resources, and a public health approach, we can reverse this deadly trend,” said Dr. Kelly Henning, who leads the Public Health program at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Wisconsin has been hit hard by the overdose crisis and Bloomberg Philanthropies is proud to partner with the State and local governments, providers and institutions, and vibrant community-led organizations to tackle this complex challenge and improve the lives and safety of Wisconsin’s families and communities.”

“Our office promotes prevention education, support for people who struggle with substance use disorders, and emphasize the importance of community level overdose reversing interventions like naloxone,” said Darryl Davidson, Director of the City of Milwaukee Office of African American Affairs. “Knowing what to do in an emergency can save a life.”

The projects introduced in Wisconsin include:

Milwaukee Black Radio Harm Reduction Project

Vital Strategies is teaming up with local radio stations to launch a local campaign to educate listeners on how the overdose crisis is disproportionately impacting Black communities in Milwaukee. In addition to raising awareness the radio ads will provide information about how people can access naloxone and other harm reduction resources through the City of Milwaukee Office of African American Affairs.

Jammin’ 98.3 personalities Earl Stokes and Don Black, AUDACY Radio/Hot 105.7 morning host Promise and iHeartMedia/V100.7 FM afternoon drive host Reggie Brown are participating in the campaign, which will air on three local radio stations until November.

Bad River Tribe Harm Reduction Program and NEXT Distro’s Initiative to Expand Access to Harm Reduction Supplies in Rural and Indigenous Communities

Vital Strategies is providing technical assistance and funding to Bad River Tribe Harm Reduction Program’s peer-facilitated harm reduction supply delivery program in four northern counties, in addition to their joint initiative with NEXT Distro that provides harm reduction supplies to individuals via mail at no cost.

The North Side Harm Reduction Coalition Report Dissemination

With support from Vital Strategies, a multi-organization workgroup composed of leaders and stakeholders from Milwaukee’s North side has formed. The North Side Harm Reduction Coalition wrote a report on the unmet harm reduction and treatment needs in the city’s Black communities. Vital Strategies is currently working with the Coalition to disseminate the report to city, county, and state decision makers to help guide future local planning and program investments.

Samad’s House and Clean Slate Milwaukee Collaboration to Expand Access to Harm Reduction Interventions in Black Communities

Vital Strategies is partnering with Samad’s House, a Black-led organization that provides health care and supportive services to women in substance use disorder recovery, to empower women with lived experience to distribute naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and provide information for treatment and referrals to Milwaukee residents. Samad’s House has also extended community outreach efforts and is collaborating with grassroots organization Clean Slate Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee Office of African American Affairs.

Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association’s Black Barbershop Program

With support from Vital Strategies, the organization Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association integrated naloxone and fentanyl test strip distribution, harm reduction education, and treatment referrals into its existing health care services embedded in Black barbershops in Dane County, where Black people are dying from drug overdoses at three times the rate of the general Dane County population. Rebalanced-Life is working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health Madison Dane County’s NARCAN® Direct Programs for supplies and training.

About Vital Strategies:
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our overdose prevention program works to strengthen and scale evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to create equitable and sustainable reductions in overdose deaths. Work across seven U.S. States is supported by funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative, launched in 2018, and by targeted investments from other partners.

Learn more here.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies:
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2022, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed US$ 1.7 billion. For more information, please visit, sign up for our newsletter,  or follow us on  Facebook,  Instagram,  YouTube,  Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Media Contacts: 
Tony Newman:; 646-335-5384
Gloria Malone: