Opioids claimed a record number of lives in Wisconsin last year, and authorities are struggling to combat the rising overdose rate linked to an influx of fentanyl.
Heroin overdoses killed 281 people in Wisconsin in 2015, accounting for more deaths than car accidents and tripling the number of fatalities attributed to heroin in 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, one in every 1,000 residents of Wisconsin was hospitalized for a heroin or opioid drug overdose. Officials in the state are particularly concerned with the emergence of fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. While there is no official way to track fentanyl deaths in Wisconsin, synthetic opioids accounted for 113 fatalities in the state in 2015, nearly doubling since 2012, reports Stevens Point Journal.
The strength of fentanyl can make it a duel threat for law enforcement officials. Some addicts may seek it out for a stronger high, while others will use it unsuspectingly.
“On the street, people are hearing that you get a better high from fentanyl because it’s stronger, so people are using fentanyl instead of heroin, or they’re using heroin laced with fentanyl, or in some cases, they don’t even know,” Lisa Bullard-Cawthorne, from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, told Stevens Point Journal. “The fentanyl is scary because it is so potent.”
Fentanyl is having a particularly devastating effect in Milwaukee. It reports 71 fentanyl deaths this year, up from 30 in 2015. Synthetic opioid deaths rose 72 percent nationally in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; several states are experiencing even larger increases.
New York experienced a 135.7 percent increase in synthetic opioid and heroin deaths between 2014 and 2015. Connecticut saw a 125.9 percent increase over the same time, while deaths in Illinois spiked 120 percent.
South Carolina experienced the largest increase in the heroin death rate at 57 percent between 2014 and 2015. The heroin death rate also rose 46 percent in North Carolina and 43.5 percent in Tennessee over the same period. Heroin-related deaths tripled from 247 in 2011 to 748 in 2015 in Maryland.
Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin in Maryland during the first half of 2016 doubled when compared to the same period in 2015, mirroring the disturbing jump of fentanyl deaths in Milwaukee this year.
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