Milwaukee County drug overdose deaths highest in over 2 decades

Fewer Wisconsinites are dying, but younger people are dying in their prime, especially Black Wisconsinites. According to the data, drug overdoses are one of the biggest culprits – specifically, fentanyl overdoses.

Things like Narcan can help, but Milwaukee County leaders said there are longer-term solutions in the works.

Across Wisconsin, the overall trend is moving in the right direction with fewer people dead from heart disease, cancer and stroke compared to 20 years ago. Even with the coronavirus pandemic, people aged 65 and up are living longer, but a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum found another trend.  By 2021, in Wisconsin and nationally, younger people were more likely to die, with opioid overdoses a big driver.

 (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

"In 2021, 644 individuals in Milwaukee County died from drug overdoses," said Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County chief health policy advisor. "That’s the highest number we’ve seen in over two decades of data."

"Year over year, (comparing 2020 to 2021) opioid deaths for African Americans increased at a rate nine times that of whites. One of the challenging things, more and more, is that drugs are not pure."

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Dr. Weston said it's important to understand what contributes to opioid use in the long term.

(Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

"And there’s a number of different things that do," said Dr. Weston. "One that the county focuses on a lot is housing. Folks who have unstable housing, who face evictions or are homeless are much more likely to suffer opioid use disorder from other folks."

Milwaukee County leaders are using more than $11 million from the opioid settlement for prevention and treatment. Those programs have yet to get off the ground.

In the meantime, Dr. Weston pointed to the importance of fentanyl test strip distribution and Narcan, including having it available at businesses.

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

With the 2022 data still under review, Dr. Weston said there will likely be another grim milestone. 

Milwaukee County has a crisis line. You can call 414-257-7222 for help.