Milwaukee County fentanyl deaths up 170% over 5 years

The number of fentanyl deaths in Milwaukee County has increased by 170% over the past five years, the medical examiner announced Wednesday, Aug. 10.

The medical examiner added total drug-related deaths in Milwaukee County were up more than 60% from 2017 to 2021.

Milwaukee County's Overdose Dashboard shows 211 confirmed fatal drug overdoses in 2022 as of June 15 compared with a total of 613 in 2021. Those numbers show the county's drug-related deaths are "on pace to be higher than 2021," the medical examiner said.

The dashboard shows the number of deaths involving fentanyl was highest in May 2020, two months into the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In May 2020, the county saw 54 fatal overdoses involving fentanyl.

A Waukesha County mom who lost her son to fentanyl poisoning doesn't want other families to go through what hers has.

"I would never want any parent to live what we live through every day," said Erin Rachwal. "If someone would have told me when Logan was little he was going to die from a drug poisoning, I never would of said, ‘Oh, yeah, sure he would.’"

On Valentine's Day 2021, Logan, 19, died from fentanyl poisoning. Erin Rachwal said teenagers like her son are especially at risk.

"They are taking a pill thinking it will make them feel better, and they are dying," said Rachwal.

Rachwal said education is the first step toward preventing these deaths.

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"We’re not going to the kill the drug crisis; right?" said Rachwal. "We can’t make it stop, so we have to fight it. The necessary thing is to be talking to kids at a young age."

Sara Schreiber with the medical examiner's office agreed.

"In the end, it's prevention," said Schreiber. "If we never start, we don’t ever get into this problem."

The medical examiner's data show a 33% increase in fatal overdoses through March 2022 compared with the same time period in 2021, evidence the problem is only getting worse.

"These calls are becoming more and more frequent," said Schreiber. "The change doesn’t look like its about to happen anytime soon."

Schreiber noted reasons for the increase in fentanyl deaths, specifically.

"It’s easy to make," said Schreiber. "It’s cheap to make. It’s very easy to have access to it."

Rachwal said that easy access is what took her son away. She now works to spread the word so that others know the risks.