Wisconsin Health News
Fueled by a continued surge in fentanyl use, opioid-related deaths set another record in Wisconsin last year, Paul Krupski, director of opioid initiatives for the Department of Health Services said Tuesday, previewing data the department plans to release this fall.
Nearly three-fourths of the deaths were linked to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to Krupski.
“It’s clearly the driver of what we are seeing,” he said at a panel hosted by Wisconsin Health News.
Krupski’s announcement mirrors national trends.
A record-breaking 107,622 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, a nearly 15 percent increase from the prior year, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the reported deaths, two-thirds involved fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, up 23 percent from 2020.
“Fentanyl is so cheap, and it’s so easily accessible and readily available,” said Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, chair of the Assembly Committee on Substance Abuse and Prevention.
James, who spearheaded a new law decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips, called for strengthening Good Samaritan laws.
“Stop having our citizens that are using become criminals because they have to become criminals before they get the services offered to them,” he said. “There’s a problem there. We need to really look at that.”
With the first payment of a more than $400 million opioid settlement set to hit the state by this fall, counties, which are receiving 70 percent of the funds, have an eye toward education.
“Part of what will happen at the local level is we will partner with our educational facilities to try to increase awareness and education so that we don’t have the problem and play catch up when someone needs Narcan, or when we are arranging a funeral,” Wisconsin Counties Association CEO Mark O'Connell said. “We got to do it earlier.”
Dr. Ritu Bhatnagar, president of the Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine, said more needs to be done to address the systemic issues that are leading to a growing number of Wisconsinites abusing substances. She called for policies aimed at the social determinants of health to make recoveries more sustainable.
“The education part is important,” she said. “But when the children go home, they are going back sometimes to very dysfunctional areas.”