Wisconsin opioid overdoses jump 117% since pandemic began

MADISON — The coronavirus pandemic may be driving a spike in suspected opioid overdoses in Wisconsin, state health officials said Wednesday.

Preliminary data shows suspected overdoses have increased 117% since the pandemic began in Wisconsin compared with the same time last year, according to the state Department of Health Services. Figures from Wisconsin emergency departments show 325 suspected overdoses from March to July 13 compared with 150 suspected overdoses during the same time span in 2019.

Paul Krupski, director of Opioid Initiatives at DHS, said the pandemic struck just as the state was making strikes in reducing opioid-related deaths. The department's secretary, Andrea Palm, said financial pressures and isolation stemming from the pandemic can exacerbate behavioral health and substance abuse problems.

An analysis of calls to 211 Wisconsin, a state help line that connects people with services, shows the pandemic and housing are callers top two concerns, followed by mental health and addiction. DHS specialists have been following up with callers to ensure they connected with someone who can help them, the department said.