Report: WI fentanyl-related overdose deaths rose 1,000 % from 2015-2021

Local law enforcement also warns of counterfeit pills
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 4:50 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A surge in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Wisconsin is being called a ‘public health crisis’ by a non-partisan research group.

A recent study released by Forward Analytics suggests Wisconsin is in the middle of a fentanyl epidemic. “This is a drug that’s hitting people in the prime of their life,” said Dale Knapp, director of Forward Analytics.

Knapp analyzed data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Knapp concluded fentanyl-related overdose deaths is the number one killer of Wisconsinites ages 25 to 54. The number two killer is motor vehicle deaths. “It’s number one by a long shot,” said Knapp

From 2015 to 2021, overdose deaths associated with synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl, increased more than 1,000 percent claiming more than 4,300 lives.

“That 4,300 deaths translate to almost 160,000 potential years of life lost,” said Knapp. “If we add in the preliminary numbers for 2022, which aren’t final yet, we’re well over 200,000 and growing. That, to me, is the really troubling number.”

Just this week, an emergency public service announcement from the Winnebago County’s Medical Examiner warns of a spike in overdose deaths related to counterfeit pills, containing lethal doses of fentanyl. So far this year, the county says 86 percent of its confirmed overdose deaths are linked to fentanyl while another seven are pending. The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office adds, “more tragically, the victims are younger.”

Knapp said drug dealers quickly realized it’s cheaper to use illegally produced fentanyl to create fake pills, like Oxycontin, Percocet and Adderall.

Detection is difficult because fentanyl is odorless and colorless. Experts say a very small amount is enough to kill a person.

Knapp said some prescription drug shortages means people are taking risks with pills on the street.

“That’s already increasing,” said Knapp.

Knapp said now is the time to recognize the epidemic and understand it’s a pervasive problem throughout Wisconsin. “It’s something that people shouldn’t just shrug off because we’re not seeing that here yet. Because more than likely, it’s coming to your community,” said Knapp.

In the report, Knapp does offer some ways to curb the fentanyl epidemic-- including fentanyl testing strips and the increased availability of Narcan.

He said one of the most important factors is education. He suggests parents learn the street names of illicit drugs so if you hear your kids talking about them, you can recognize it immediately.

According to the report, here are some terms often referring to fentanyl: Apache, China Girl, China Town, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Great Bear, He-Man, Jackpot, King Ivory, Murder 8, Poison and Tango & Cash.

Click here to review the full report.