Opioid Crisis Still Growing
Are there solutions? Panel of experts share views on epidemic of overdoses, deaths.
Across Wisconsin, an estimated 163,000 persons are currently abusing some form of an opioid drug.
This was one in a series of eye-opening statistics that shed new light on the ongoing crisis surrounding fentanyl, heroin, methadone, oxycodone and other drugs in this class of addictive painkillers, and the focus of a forum Friday.
The Milwaukee Regional Research Forum, an organization that partners with eight medical and higher education institutions, hosted the forum — its eighth annual — in an effort to continue a dialogue toward meaningful solutions to an ongoing problem.
According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office, 294 opioid-related overdose deaths occurred in the city and surrounding 18 suburbs in 2016 — more than double the 144 deaths reported in 2012.
At the forum, Timothy Westlake, an emergency medicine physician with ProHealth Care, said the state of rising overdoses today stem from “a perfect storm” that can be traced back two decades.
In the late 1990s, Westlake said, a movement in the medical community led to prescribing more pain-relieving drugs. The argument, he said, was some conditions were going untreated.
“That’s what led to the problem,” said Westlake, who was the keynote speaker and one of four panelists offering varied viewpoints on the epidemic. “Powerful opioids were being prescribed for chronic pain.”
Attached to that scenario are stigmas as dependence grows, Westlake said. “Addiction is a disease that hides and grows in the dark,” he said. “We have a cultural pill bias.”
Few would contend there isn’t a problem with opioid overdoses and addiction. But steps toward seeking solutions have not always been popular.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, another panelist at the forum, concedes his stance on the epidemic has been controversial in some circles. But he said he is unwavering in his approach.
“We will not arrest our way out of this problem,” Schimel said. “We also will not incarcerate our way out of this problem.”
The strictly law-and-order approach of the past has not proven effective, Schimel said, as evidenced by the ongoing rise in overdoses and deaths.
“We’ve suffered from the Albert Einstein definition of insanity,” Schimel said. “We’ve been doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If we’re going to beat this, it has to be a multi-faceted approach.”
Using the composition of the panel seated at Friday’s forum as an example, E. Brooke Lerner, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said true collaboration is a key to eradicating the problem.
“We need to bring together groups that might seem strange to have together,” Lerner said.
Public awareness campaigns can be effective and enter into the cultural conscience over time, Lerner said, pointing to smoking cessation messages as one potent example.
“There are some lessons there that we have to try and apply to this problem,” she said.
While awareness and other conceptual issues are one end of the spectrum, there also is the practical side of treatment.
“Our primary goal is to reduce the mortality rate,” Parish said, matter-of-factly.
While the panelists dug deep into the issues surrounding the problem, Westlake said there is one obvious first step each person struggling with addiction has to take — he or she has to want to seek solutions.
“Forced treatment does not work,” Westlake said.
And while there have been plenty of headlines about opioid overdoses and deaths, and the issue has become part of the public conscience, Schimel said he believes more work is still needed to get the word out about how serious the problem truly is — in urban areas, suburbs and rural communities.
“I’ve never been comfortable calling this a war on drugs,” Schimel said. “It is a battle to win over public opinion.”
More about the Opioid Crisis
- Baldwin Requests Funding to Study Opioid Crisis - Isiah Holmes - May 22nd, 2020
- U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Jeanne Shaheen Lead Colleagues in Calling for Increased Opioid Funding in Coronavirus Relief Package - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - May 19th, 2020
- Award-Winning Wisconsin Enhanced Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Changes Prescribing Culture, Drives Down Opioid and Controlled Substance Prescribing - Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services - May 11th, 2020
- Opioid Treatment Facility Sees Uptick During Pandemic - Isiah Holmes - Apr 9th, 2020
- Wisconsin Physician Agrees to Pay Financial Penalties to Resolve Allegations That He Prescribed Opioids Illegally and Violated False Claims Act - U.S. Department of Justice - Apr 5th, 2020
- County Overdose Deaths Up 50% in 2020 - Graham Kilmer - Apr 5th, 2020
- MKE County: Federal Grant Funds New Opioid Program - Graham Kilmer - Mar 4th, 2020
- Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division Receives $1.2 Million Grant from Bureau of Justice Assistance to Reduce Offender Opioid Overdose Deaths - Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division - Mar 3rd, 2020
- Gov. Evers Signs Bills Focused on Expanding Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Services - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 3rd, 2020
- Op Ed: Nygren Sentencing Shows Power of Addiction - Casey Hoff - Mar 2nd, 2020
- 21 Likely Drug Deaths In One Week - Alana Watson - Feb 26th, 2020
- County Had Record Overdose Deaths in 2019 - Edgar Mendez - Feb 12th, 2020
- U.S. Attorneys Mark Opioid Warning Letter Anniversary: Substantial Drop in Opiate Prescriptions Follows Cooperation Between Law Enforcement and Medical Community - U.S. Department of Justice - Feb 3rd, 2020
- Wisconsin Jail Population Rising - Rob Mentzer and Keegan Kyle - Jan 16th, 2020
- One Doctor’s Fight to Handle Opioid Crisis - Bram Sable-Smith - Jan 1st, 2020
- Milwaukee Medical Doctor and Clinic Office Manager Convicted of Unlawfully Distributing Opioids - U.S. Department of Justice - Dec 19th, 2019
- Baldwin, Colleagues Call on Purdue Pharma to Cancel $1.3 Million Bonus for CEO - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Dec 17th, 2019
- Justice Department Awards More Than $333 Million to Fight Opioid Crisis - U.S. Department of Justice - Dec 12th, 2019
- California Man Indicted on Fentanyl Distribution Charges - U.S. Department of Justice - Dec 11th, 2019
- City Hall: City Wins $700,000 For Drug Overdose Fight - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2019
- Council approves hiring outside counsel to recover opioid epidemic costs - Ald. Michael Murphy - Oct 15th, 2019
- Oxycontin Maker Gave $65k to Marquette University - Rich Kremer - Oct 7th, 2019
- Wisconsin Not Settling With OxyContin Manufacturer - Brady Carlson - Oct 2nd, 2019
- Milwaukee Experiencing Unprecedented Number of Drug Overdoses - Isiah Holmes - Sep 25th, 2019
- Kaul Rejects Settlement with Oxycontin - Melanie Conklin - Sep 12th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces Nearly $12 Million to Continue Fighting the Opioid Crisis in Wisconsin - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 4th, 2019
- Opioid Settlement Could Aid County - Isiah Holmes - Sep 4th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces Nearly $5.2 Million in Federal Funding to Reduce Opioid Overdoses in Wisconsin - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 3rd, 2019
- Inside State’s First 24/7 Opioid Treatment Center - Isiah Holmes - Aug 29th, 2019
- Opioid Addiction Can Be Beaten, Experts Say - Isiah Holmes - Aug 15th, 2019
- State Health Agency’s New Data Tool Shows a Decline in the Number of Opioid Deaths in Wisconsin - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Aug 14th, 2019
- DHS Takes Coordinated Approach to Dealing with Opioid Addiction - Brady Carlson - Aug 9th, 2019
- Why the Weekend of Fatal Overdoses? - Isiah Holmes - Jul 31st, 2019
- Wisconsin Is Awash in Opioids - Isiah Holmes - Jul 28th, 2019
- City May Sue Opioid Manufacturers - Alana Watson - Jul 26th, 2019
- Sensenbrenner, Johnson Introduce SOFA Act to Combat Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner - May 22nd, 2019
- Attorney General Kaul Files Lawsuit to Hold Purdue Pharma Accountable for Role in Opioid Crisis - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - May 16th, 2019
- AG Kaul Announces Wisconsin, Four Other States, File Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma - Josh Kaul - May 16th, 2019
- Medicaid Expansion Would Help Opioid Addicts - Laurel White - May 9th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Reintroduce Legislation to Combat the Opioid and Substance Use Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - May 8th, 2019
- Kaul, AGs Warn of More Opioid Problems - Shamane Mills - Apr 2nd, 2019
- Bipartisan Coalition of AGs Express Concern Regarding HHS Pain Management Draft Report - Josh Kaul - Apr 1st, 2019
- Opioid Crisis Affecting State Businesses - Shamane Mills - Apr 1st, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Bipartisan Work Recognized by National Organization - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 28th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces New Federal Funding To Help Wisconsin Combat the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 27th, 2019
- Three Hospitals Offer 40 Recovery Coaches - Mary Kate McCoy - Mar 22nd, 2019
- State Officials Meet to Tackle Drug Epidemic - Shamane Mills - Mar 18th, 2019
- The Enduring Allure of Opioids - Hayley Sperling - Feb 24th, 2019
- Hagedorn Campaign Releases First TV Ad: “Lily” - Brian Hagedorn - Feb 19th, 2019
- Opioid Prescriptions in State Down 29% - Shamane Mills - Feb 11th, 2019
- Have County Overdose Deaths Peaked? - Ximena Conde - Dec 31st, 2018
- Drug Task Force Seeks Community Input - Max Nawara - Dec 20th, 2018
- Ald. Tony Zielinski to Sponsor Legislation to Ensure Proper Coverage for City Employees Struggling with Addiction and Other Mental Health Problems - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Dec 17th, 2018
- Opioid Task Force Issues Recommendations - Ximena Conde - Dec 4th, 2018
- Final report released by Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force - Ald. Michael Murphy - Nov 30th, 2018
- 4th Dimension Recovery Center Opens to Address Opioid Epidemic in Wisconsin - 4th Dimension Recovery Center - Nov 12th, 2018
- Governor Walker Announces 32% Decrease in Opioid Prescriptions Since January 2015 - Gov. Scott Walker - Oct 31st, 2018
- #HopeActLiveWI: Wisconsin Awarded Nearly $3 Million to Combat Opioid Epidemic - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Oct 10th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces More Than $20 Million Awarded to Wisconsin Communities to Fight the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 21st, 2018
- Senator Baldwin’s Reforms Pass Senate with Overwhelming Bipartisan Support - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 18th, 2018
- Another Attorney General Not Named Brad Schimel Sues Opioid Manufacturer - One Wisconsin Now - Sep 15th, 2018
- Bipartisan Senate Opioids Response Legislation Includes Senator Baldwin’s Reforms - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 12th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Counties Struggle With Opioid Costs - Steven Walters - Aug 20th, 2018
- Vipond Campaign: ‘Opioids: Clear & Present Danger’ in Race to Replace Sensenbrenner - Dr. Jennifer Hoppe Vipond - Aug 1st, 2018
- PDMP Report Shows Continued Decline in Controlled Substances Dispensed - Gov. Scott Walker - Jul 30th, 2018
- Illegal drugs are strangling the life out of our neighborhoods - Ald. Bob Donovan - Jul 19th, 2018
- Meth A Bigger Issue Than Opioids? - Shamane Mills - Jul 6th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces New Federal Funding Available to Help Wisconsin Combat the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jun 20th, 2018
- Sensenbrenner-Backed Legislation to Fight Synthetic Opioids Clears House - U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner - Jun 15th, 2018
- Community Engagement Session Hosted by Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force - Ald. Michael Murphy - Jun 4th, 2018
- Brad Schimel and Scott Walker Repeat Mistakes Past; Refuse to Take Legal Action Against Opioid Manufacturers - One Wisconsin Now - Jun 4th, 2018
- State Awards $2.4 Million For Opioid Treatment - Danielle Kaeding - Jun 2nd, 2018
- After Securing Federal Investments, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces Over $2.4 Million Awarded to Wisconsin Communities to Fight the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jun 1st, 2018
- In Sturgeon Bay and Kaukauna, Senator Baldwin Calls for Senate Vote on New Bipartisan Legislation to Fight the Opioid Crisis - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - May 29th, 2018
- Campaign Cash: State Politicians Funded by Accused Drug Makers - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - May 26th, 2018
- In Superior, Senator Baldwin Calls for Senate Vote on New Bipartisan Legislation to Fight the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - May 25th, 2018
- City-County Plan Targets Opioid Epidemic - Edgar Mendez - May 22nd, 2018
- Brad Schimel Election Ad Blames Families, Not His Pharmaceutical Donors for Opioid Crisis - One Wisconsin Now - May 17th, 2018
- Governor Walker Announces 10% Drop in Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed Over the Past Year - Gov. Scott Walker - May 16th, 2018
- Cocaine Overdose Deaths Have Nearly Tripled - Ximena Conde - May 15th, 2018
- Bryce Calls on Steil to To Reject Donations from Pharmaceutical Companies Fueling the Opioid Crisis - Randy Bryce - May 9th, 2018
- U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Bill Cassidy Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Halt the Flow of Illicit Fentanyl into the U.S. - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 24th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Colleagues to Call on Administration to Take Immediate Action to Reduce Price of Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 20th, 2018
- Opioid Crisis: The House Where Addicts Die - Isiah Holmes - Apr 18th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address the Opioid Crisis - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 17th, 2018
- Op Ed: Stronger Action Needed on Opioid Crisis - Matt Flynn - Apr 14th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Allow Safe Disposal of Unwanted Drugs in Hospice - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 13th, 2018
- Leah Attends Opioid Taskforce Meeting about Alternative Treatments to Pain - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Apr 13th, 2018
- Walker Signs Vukmir Bill Battling Opioid Crisis - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Apr 10th, 2018
- Combating the Opioid Crisis: Governor Walker Signs Bipartisan Bills on Opioids into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Apr 9th, 2018
- Bipartisan Alternative Drug Treatment Program Signed Into Law - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Apr 3rd, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Hosts Roundtable with Green Bay Officials on Fighting the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 2nd, 2018
- U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, Todd Young and Edward Markey Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Fight Opioid-Related Infectious Diseases - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 23rd, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces New Funding for Wisconsin to Combat the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 22nd, 2018
- Vukmir Battles Opioid Epidemic - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Mar 20th, 2018
- Supervisor Peggy West: Time to Hold Drug Makers Accountable - Sup. Peggy A. West - Mar 14th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin to Health Insurers: Step Up Response to Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 5th, 2018
- Latest Report Highlights 20 Percent Decrease in Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed from 2015 to 2017 - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Tracking Opioid Deaths by ZIP Code - Isiah Holmes - Mar 1st, 2018
- Sensenbrenner Introduces Bill to Save Lives and Curb the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner - Feb 5th, 2018
- Governor Walker Discusses the Opioid Epidemic at Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Conference - Gov. Scott Walker - Feb 5th, 2018
- Vukmir, Nygren Lead Efforts to Combat the Opioid Epidemic - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Jan 19th, 2018
- Governor Walker Takes Additional Action to Fight Opioid Crisis - Gov. Scott Walker - Jan 19th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls on President Trump to Provide Information on Political Appointees Serving in Key Drug Policy Positions - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jan 18th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls on President Trump To Renew The Opioid Public Health Emergency - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jan 12th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls on President Trump to Sign Bipartisan Legislation Passed by Congress to Help Halt Flow of Illicit Fentanyl into the United States - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Dec 22nd, 2017
- Drug-Related Deaths To Hit 420 in 2017 - Edgar Mendez - Dec 21st, 2017
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Bipartisan Group of Senators Urging Congressional Leadership to Commit Resources to Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Dec 15th, 2017
- Senators Baldwin, Capito, Moran, Manchin, Blumenthal and Tester Introduce Bipartisan VA Reform to Strengthen Opioid Safety in the VA Choice Program - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Nov 15th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: Brad Schimel’s Opioid Problem - Bruce Murphy - Nov 14th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Leaves Counties to Sue Drug Companies - State Senators Janet Bewley and Dave Hansen - Nov 11th, 2017
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Bipartisan Group Calling on DOJ to Provide Guidance on Boosting Support for Forensic Labs in Efforts to Combat Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Nov 9th, 2017
- Special Report: Opioid Crisis Hits City Hard - Edgar Mendez - Nov 9th, 2017
- Opioid Crisis Still Growing - Dave Fidlin - Oct 30th, 2017
- Op Ed: Nygren, Sidener Dramatize Opioid Problem - Casey Hoff - Oct 18th, 2017
- Op Ed: The Heroin and Opioid Crisis Is Real - Isiah Holmes - Aug 28th, 2017
- The State of Politics: John Nygren’s War on Drug Abuse - Steven Walters - Jul 10th, 2017
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Coalition Urging Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to Focus on Funding for Opioid Crisis and Medical Research in Government Spending Bill - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 26th, 2017
- Op Ed: Opioid Crisis Demands Bipartisan Solutions - Jeff Plale - Feb 24th, 2017
- Governor Walker Announces Members of the Task Force on Opioid Abuse - Gov. Scott Walker - Oct 25th, 2016
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Applauds Investments in Wisconsin to Address the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Aug 31st, 2016
- Prescription Drugs Lead Way to Heroin - Wyatt Massey - Mar 17th, 2016
- Heroin Deaths Up 241% Since 2010 - Wyatt Massey - Mar 16th, 2016