Milwaukee Project Reduces Local Drug Abuse

The Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services developed a project designed to reduce the demand for illicit alcohol and drugs in the central city of Milwaukee.

The number of substance abuse clients Milwaukee County served increased 25 percent between 1984 and 1989, and an estimated 25,635 people in the central city of Milwaukee were substance abusers.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program, Fighting Back®: Community Initiatives to Reduce Demand for Alcohol and Drugs.

Key Results

During the course of the grants, Fighting Back:

  • Established the V.E. Family Development Center, which provided alcohol and drug prevention services for children, youth and their parents.
  • Established the Center for Demand Reduction to strengthen the skills and experience of service providers and community volunteers in prevention, early identification, treatment and medical support.
  • Developed a comprehensive plan to coordinate local efforts around substance abuse prevention and demand reduction.
  • Created a standard for alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment that was culturally appropriate for different ethnic and racial groups and trained providers in the use of this standard.
  • Helped establish the Congregational Outreach Resource Partnership, which trained volunteers to start support groups or establish referral programs within their churches.
  • Produced a Community Report Card that tracked key indicators of youth substance use in Milwaukee County.
  • Helped institute alcohol and other drug policy changes on the state and local levels, including passage of legislation increasing state fees for liquor licenses and passage of a 9:00 p.m. cut-off for beer sales in the city of Milwaukee.
  • Helped implement Milwaukee's component of the federally supported Target Cities program, which aimed to improve substance abuse treatment through projects designed to coordinate available services and distribute vouchers that people could exchange for needed treatment.

Evaluation Findings

According to a national evaluation by Brandeis University, which compared Milwaukee to similar sites where Fighting Back was not implemented:

  • There was a significant decrease in Milwaukee in the percentage of people who reported any illicit drug use in the prior year while illicit drug use increased slightly in the comparison sites.
  • The percentage of youth in Milwaukee judged at risk of alcohol dependence decreased significantly compared with the comparison sites.
  • There were no changes for adult risk in Milwaukee or the comparison sites.

The evaluation team noted that almost all of the project's efforts were undertaken in partnership with other organizations:

  • It remained unclear to what extent the project's "collaboration/partnership work enhanced efforts at demand reduction, or to what degree it has helped coordinate services or add to the effectiveness of other groups."