Waukesha County Declares Fentanyl a ‘Health Crisis’
92 people died of overdoses in Waukesha County last year.
Logan Rachwal was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Growing up, he loved to play baseball. As a college student, he enjoyed writing poems, drawing and cooking.
He was just 19-years-old when his mother, Erin Rachwal, received a phone call from one of Logan’s friends on the night of Feb. 14, 2021.
It was Valentine’s Day. The friend told her Logan would not wake up and asked Rachwal to call 911.
Rachwal learned from campus police that her son had died of a drug overdose. Hours earlier, after an argument with his girlfriend, Logan had taken a pill and fallen asleep. He never woke up.
“And they (police) sat us down and told us that he had passed away,” Erin Rachwal said. “And it was awful … it was just awful.”
Now, over a year later, Rachwal is trying to educate others about the issue, as drug overdose deaths have increased across the state and nation.
In 2020, the last full year of data available from the state, 1,277 Wisconsinites died from a drug overdose death. Twenty years earlier, that figure was at 111.
In recent years, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, is leading the increase.
Last week in Waukesha County, where fentanyl is associated with 71 percent of all drug-related deaths, officials declared the proliferation of the drug a “community health crisis.”
It’s an “extremely encouraging” step, Rachwal said.
“Someone’s got to be screaming from a mountaintop, in every state, that this is killing our children,” she said.
In 2020, drug overdose deaths killed a record 95 people in Waukesha County. Data from 2021 shows 92 people died from opipids, but that number is likely to rise, as 10 autopsies are still pending.
Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow signed the community health crisis declaration on Aug. 1. In Waukesha County, drug related deaths have become the leading non-natural cause of death for adults ages 18-45.
“We know from what we’ve seen from other communities that this problem is going to get worse, before it gets better,” Farrow said.
“There are way too many people dying from this drug,” Farrow said about fentanyl.
The county will also receive $17 million over the next 18 years through a $420 million state settlement with opioid drug distributors. Those funds could be used to increase training for the use of Narcan, or naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses. It can also be used to increase treatment for those who suffer from substance use disorders.
Waukesha isn’t the only community being impacted across the state.
In 2020, 545 overdose deaths were recorded in Milwaukee County. That number rose to 643 in 2021. Around 80 percent of the drug deaths logged contained fentanyl, according to the Milwaukee Medical Examiner’s Office.
Wisconsin has been dealing with an opioid epidemic for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting social isolation played a role in exacerbating the opioid crisis. A 2021 Wisconsin Department of Health Services report pointed to the increase in stress and isolation being seen from the pandemic as possible reasons for the increase across the state.
DHS announced on Aug. 1 it had received more than $6 million from the National Prescription Opiate Litigation settlement funds. The department plans to spend much of that money on Narcan and on fentanyl testing strips, which can be used to identify the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugs.
Waukesha County declares fentanyl a ‘community health crisis’ was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
- MKE County: Drug Settlements Could Help Expand Opioid Addiction Programs - Graham Kilmer - Sep 21st, 2023
- DHS Awards Funding to Law Enforcement Agencies Working to Address the Opioid Epidemic - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Sep 21st, 2023
- Milwaukee County Announces Locations of 11 ‘Harm Reduction Vending Machines’ to Combat Death from Overdose - County Executive David Crowley - Aug 8th, 2023
- Attorney General Kaul Joins Law Enforcement, Public Health Officials Across Wisconsin to Highlight Additional NARCAN® from Opioid Settlements - Wisconsin Department of Justice - Aug 8th, 2023
- Narcan Vending Machines Arrive in County - Isiah Holmes - Aug 8th, 2023
- DHS Announces Expansion of Harm Reduction Efforts - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Jun 29th, 2023
- ‘They Die So Quickly’ From Fentanyl - Max Stapleton - Jun 26th, 2023
- Report Finds 1000% Increase in Fentanyl-Related Deaths - Isiah Holmes - Jun 13th, 2023
- Teva, Allergan, CVS, and Walgreens Finalize Opioid Settlement Agreements - Wisconsin Department of Justice - Jun 9th, 2023
- Current BOZA inconsistency and dysfunction detrimental to serving the public - Ald. Lamont Westmoreland - Jun 7th, 2023
Read more about Opioid Crisis here