Drug overdoses increasing, some pushing for more focus on treatment

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 4:59 PM CDT
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - Two local counties are reporting an alarming number of drug overdose deaths, many of which are tied to fentanyl. Fentanyl is an opioid, similar to morphine, but far more potent.

Fond du Lac County had 30 overdose deaths last year. There were a combined total of 32 deaths in the three previous years. While those numbers are dramatic, what’s more concerning, according to District Attorney Eric Toney, is the number of times fentanyl was involved. He says, “From 2007, when our Medical Examiner’s Office first started keeping track of our overdose deaths, up until 2019 there was about 15 or 16 fentanyl overdose related deaths. Last year, in 2020, there were 26.”

The numbers aren’t any better in Manitowoc County, which has dealt with 8 overdose deaths since Memorial Day late last month. According to Lt. Dave Remiker with the county’s Metro Drug Unit, “Just seeing a significant increase in the overdose deaths and the fentanyl related investigations and cases that we’re seeing here locally.”

Law enforcement is working diligently to investigate drug cases, and prosecutors are getting convictions, but many on the frontlines believe the focus needs to be on what happens next.

“Law enforcement is not always the answer,” says Lt. Remiker., adding, “This is a community problem. This is an epidemic that we need to address not only from law enforcement standpoint, but treatment providers, community members.”

And D.A. Toney says, “What are we doing once they’re in prison to when they leave prison and are out to make sure that they’re not coming back. And that should be a significant goal and something that more resources should be directed at for people once they’re in prison to make sure they’re getting that treatment from day one until they leave.”

The Manitowoc County community has spent the past several years working to increase easier access to treatment. That’s included opening CORE Treatment Services, a 16-bed residential facility. And a push is underway to let people know help is only a phone call or text away.

Christma Rusch is the executive director of Lighthouse Recovery Community Center. She says, “Even if they’re not ready, just to give us a call we can talk about different pathways, that’s what we’re here to do is to help them navigate what pathway and how we can help them overcome any barriers to their recovery goals.”

All involved understand the drug problem won’t be solved overnight, but they celebrate their victories, hoping more are on the horizon.

“I don’t believe it’s hopeless. We’re still going to lose some, that’s just part of this industry. But at the same time, we are going to see some wins,” says Chris Gilbert, co-executive director of CORE Treatment Services.

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