Graham Kilmer

County Overdose Deaths Up 50% in 2020

Medical Examiner warns current pace would result in 640 deaths in 2020.

By - Apr 5th, 2020 11:12 am
Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

Milwaukee County is on pace to smash a record it doesn’t want to break. The number of deaths from drug overdoses could exceed the previous high by over 50 percent.

The county is on track to record 640 deaths from drug overdoses in 2020 said the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner‘s Office this week, exceeding the previous record of 407 recorded in 2019.

The 640 death estimate is up from an estimate of 500 deaths in February.

And that estimate is based on just this year’s surge,  said Karen Domagalski, operations manager at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office. “This has just been 2020.”

A large chunk of the cases the medical examiner’s office sees are overdose deaths from Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. In 2019, 243 deaths investigated by the medical examiner’s office were due to fentanyl alone or in combination with other drugs. That was up from 188 in 2018.

Another steadily increasing trend is overdose deaths from cocaine alone or in combination with other drugs. This trend began in 2017. Prior to that year, there were on average less than 100 cocaine overdoses in the county.

Then, starting in 2017, “those numbers started to escalate,” said Domagalski. In 2018, there were 185 deaths from cocaine use alone or with other drugs, then in 2019 the death toll was 180.

Domagalski said the office is very busy right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting a reprieve from everything else. “Nothing else is really slowing down,” said Domagalski. Deaths from car crashes, homicides and overdoses continue unabated.

The Medical Examiner’s office has divided the staff into three teams to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. Out of caution, Domagalski said they are treating the illness as infectious even in death.

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2 thoughts on “County Overdose Deaths Up 50% in 2020”

  1. Billlau says:

    Would really appreciate you giving accurate information rather than “projections”. Its that real vs.unreal thing; information vs. misinformation. The opioid crisis is bad enough without making up stuff. History will tell if the medical examiner’s projection is accurate. But until then, we need facts, not guesses.

  2. Paul Mozina says:

    Here are the most recent statistics of Drug-Related deaths in 2019 published by Dr. Brian Peterson on March 10, 2020.

    Note the total Drug-Related Deaths in 2019 is 417 rather than the 407 number mentioned in the story above. (see images of Dr. Peterson’s latest spreadsheet below)!AoGhDn8qu6nxlRSWYKyN25RzkH-d?e=iVY47g!AoGhDn8qu6nxlRNTPmZHkClpW68Y?e=LLTmWJ

    It is critical that we look at these deaths in light of the ongoing War On Drugs.

    Here are some Face Book posts that further explain the relationship of the War On Drugs to the Opioid Epidemic.

    The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission was doing great work under the leadership of Dr. Mallory O’Brien analyzing homicides and documented the following:

    Drug-Related Homicides
    13 (15.1%) in 2014
    25 (17.2%) in 2015
    15 (10.8%) in 2016

    Drug-related shootings
    60 (10.3%) in 2014
    68 (10.7%) in 2015
    36 (6.4) in 2016

    Here are the report from which the above numbers were pulled.


    Constance Kostelac, PhD Assistant Professor Institute for Health & Equity Division of Epidemiology Medical College of Wisconsin, Is the new leader of the resurrected Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission and she was tentatively scheduled to present their latest findings at the next Milwaukee Community Justice Council’s Community Meeting of the Whole. I hope they are able to proceed with a virtual version of this meeting.

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