Milwaukee County overdose deaths up 571% over 2 decades

A new Milwaukee County Overdose Dashboard has been created in order to understand the trends in both fatal and nonfatal overdoses and inform prevention efforts. Overdose deaths have gone up more than 570% in the county in the last two decades.

In 2001, Milwaukee County had 92 overdose deaths. In 2011, the number doubled to 185. In 2021, there were 618. That’s a 234% increase in the past 10 years and a 571% increase in 20 years.

It really is a crisis. There has been a huge increase since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – a majority related to opioids.

The new dashboard shows trends and demographics with the hope of tackling the problem.

"April 26, 2021, I got a knock at the door by one of her friends that something bad happened," said Lydia Hernandez. 

Hernandez will never forget the day that changed her life forever.

"This was just like, a total shock to the family," said Hernandez.

Her 27-year-old daughter Ly'Marita Cheeks, died after taking a pill she didn't know was laced with fentanyl.

"Our family is just totally broken," said Hernandez.

Cheeks' death has left a huge void in the lives of her loved ones.

"She was very creative," said Hernandez. "She was very smart. She just wanted to hang out with her friends. That's all, and one day, she just didn’t come home."

In 2021, more than 600 people died because of an overdose. Around 80% were due to fentanyl.

"Opioid-related overdoses, opioid-related deaths are just going up and up and up as you look month-on-month and year-on-year," said Dr. Ben Weston.

Milwaukee County officials are trying to get to the root of the problem. 

"We’ve seen an increase year-over-year for a while now, but it’s certainly shot up dramatically with the pandemic," said Weston.

Hernandez has dedicated her life to trying to stop the epidemic, starting Mothers Against Fentanyl, pushing forward through grief so other parents don't experience the same pain.

"As a mom, I want to let other mothers know that this exists out there," said Hernandez.

Dr. Weston says the dashboard is only a first step. The next would be using the data and working with community partners to figure out the best intervention.

Overdose Dashboard overview

The Milwaukee County Overdose Dashboard aims to:

  1. Expand the delivery and analysis of near real-time data between multiple public health and public safety partners.
  2. Utilize both aggregate data and insights from case reviews to develop and implement strategies and recommendations for changes to reduce the likelihood of future overdose incidents.
  3. Increase capacity to deliver timely toxicology findings to public health and public safety partners.
  4. Enrich understanding of fatal overdose risk factors through expanded next of kin interviews.
  5. Connect families impacted by overdose, particularly children, to services to mitigate the impact of the trauma experienced.

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From 2014-2020, the opioid overdose fatality rate in Milwaukee County was 30.9 per 100,000 persons, more than twice the Wisconsin rate of 14.8 per 100,000. Deaths involving cocaine were over three times higher at 13.2 per 100,000 persons in Milwaukee County compared to 3.9 per 100,000 persons statewide in the same period.

The number of overdose deaths rose 30% from 2019 to 2020, and the number of confirmed overdose deaths in 2021 exceeds 600.

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