Cocaine Overdose Deaths Have Nearly Tripled
In Milwaukee County up from 50 in 2013 to 140 in 2017.
Six people died in Milwaukee County this weekend of suspected drug overdoses, continuing a grim trend across the state.
Already, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office has recorded 79 drug-related deaths in 2018 and is waiting for toxicology reports for another 65 suspected drug overdose deaths.
Opioids play a role in most of the county’s overdose deaths, which have almost doubled since 2013, according to the medical examiner’s office, but health and law enforcement officials warn of an overlooked trend in the region.
Powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl — a drug up to 100 times stronger than morphine — are being found in less lethal drugs more often, driving up the number of fatalities, said Jake Jansky of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation.
“We’re not 100 percent sure why we’re getting fentanyl because there’s definitely other ways to make more money on cocaine by mixing it with, you know, chemicals that are not lethal and are probably cheaper,” he said.
One possibility is that by adding an opioid like fentanyl to a drug like cocaine, dealers can keep a customer longer, said Jansky.
“You add that fentanyl in and that may make it more addictive and now you may have a customer for eight months to a year, assuming they survive,” said Jansky. “Versus a customer for two weeks and they move on to someone else.”
Still, John Schneider, chief medical officer for Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health Division, described two other possibilities.
One is cross-contamination.
Schneider said he wouldn’t be surprised if synthetic opioids like fentanyl just got mixed up during packaging.
Fentanyl’s presence in the county has boomed in the past five years. In 2015, there were 30 cases where the drug was involved, the number climbed to 97 cases in 2016. According to the medical examiner’s office, last year there were 187 fentanyl-related deaths.
Schneider said another possibility could be users seeking different, more potent highs. Schneider said by mixing cocaine and an opioid, users create a “speedball.”
Depending on the combination and ratio, a person can alter their experience. But Schneider said it can be hard to know exactly how to measure drug dosages because the half-lives of synthetic opioids can drastically vary.
In 2017, out of roughly 140 cocaine-related deaths, more than 100 involved an opioid.
Sara Schreiber is the forensic technical director of the toxicology lab in Milwaukee County’s Medical Examiner’s Office; she has seen cocaine-related deaths increase first hand.
“But since the numbers aren’t quite as numerous as those in the opioid column, I don’t think that they’ve drawn the attention that it deserves for what this situation is evolving to be,” Schreiber said.
Jansky says Milwaukee County and southeastern Wisconsin aren’t isolated in the drug trends its experiencing.
“The days of feeling safe using a product that you believe is non-addictive or non-lethal, I think those days have come to an end,” he said. “I would try to impress to the people of Wisconsin that the days of feeling secure in using illegal narcotics have come to an end and came to an end with the rise of fentanyl.”
Cocaine-Related Deaths On The Rise In Milwaukee County was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
More about the Opioid Crisis
- Campaign Cash: State Politicians Funded by Accused Drug Makers - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - May 26th, 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
- 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 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
- 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
- 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
- Op Ed: Opioid Crisis Demands Bipartisan Solutions - Jeff Plale - Feb 24th, 2017
- Prescription Drugs Lead Way to Heroin - Wyatt Massey - Mar 17th, 2016
- Heroin Deaths Up 241% Since 2010 - Wyatt Massey - Mar 16th, 2016