MILWAUKEE COUNTY — Milwaukee County is seeing a dramatic spike in deaths related to the drug Fentanyl. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating 19 deaths related to Fentanyl since December 28, 2015. Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office Officials say many of these victims may have been unaware they were taking the drug.
“The individuals don’t know that this is the substance that they’re being sold they believe that they’re purchasing a product that is heroin but they’re being sold a product that is much more potent,” said Sara Schreiber, forensic technical director at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office.
It’s called Fentanyl — and according to the DEA, it’s 30-50 times more potent than heroin.
“The amount of drug that’s needed to cause death is much smaller,” said Schreiber. Schreiber says traditionally, Fentanyl is a prescription drug given to patients suffering from chronic pain, sometimes in the form of a patch. But that’s not how it’s showing up in these victims. “The substances that we’re seeing through are powders, this isn’t extracted from a patch, these are being illicitly prepared and are then available to be sold as or mixed with other drug preparations on the illicit market,” said Schreiber.
In 2014, the Milwaukee County ME’s Office investigated 16 Fentanyl related deaths. That number jumped to 28 in 2015. But it’s now claiming victims at a much more rapid rate.
“Like this is a pretty good number of cases for six weeks,” said Schreiber. Schreiber says in the past, Fentanyl was the lone substance behind many deaths. But now, they’re seeing more victims who also had other substances in their systems.
FOX6 News spoke with Alderman Michael Murphy about this issue. He has a plan to address the issue. “It focuses really not only on Fentanyl but oxycodone and obviously heroin,” said Murphy. He’s raising money to create a position that would work with law enforcement and health professionals to attack the problem on multiple fronts. “I’m in the final stages and will shortly announce the number of partners and it’s more than 50,000 I’ve been able to raise,” said Murphy.
Of the 19 deaths, none appear to be related to the misuse of a Fentanyl patch, but are from the illicit use of controlled substances and poly-drug abuse.
The 19 deaths are broken down as follows:
- Milwaukee (14 deaths)
- Franklin (2 deaths)
- West Allis (1 death)
- Cudahy (2 deaths)
Heroin Fentanyl, these two drugs are highly addictive and are killing people. I suppose it’s the people that are taking the drugs that are killing themselves, but either way you choose to look at it, people are dying and that number is growing.
I remember the first time I injected Fentanyl. I remember it like it was yesterday. The feeling was unlike anything I had felt before. Better than morphine, better than Demerol, much better. I also remember I changed that day. I changed from an occasional user, to someone else. Taking that drug began my addiction to opiates. Before that I do not think I was physically addicted. I used only occasionally and although I craved the release I got from the drugs, I did not necessarily seek them out. I took them when I otherwise would have discarded them. But this, this Fentanyl I could not resist. I began stealing it from stock. I could not resist it. I swore on the way to work I would not take any, I promised myself. But once in the door at work it was all I could think about. I had to have it. It was usually only a few hours before I relented and took it. If you know me today, you may find this hard to believe. I no longer resemble that person. I am free from that obsession…one day at a time.
Others are not so lucky. It can start simply enough. Some Vicodin or Percocet for pain after surgery or an injury. Add in stressors, a propensity for covering feelings and the mix can lead to using substances for other than what they are intended. Then something like oxycodone or Fentanyl enter the picture and life as they know it is over. People that otherwise lead decent productive lives find themselves overcome by an addiction. They have no idea how it started and certainly have no idea how to stop it.
So what do we do about it? How do we help? I assure you, there are things we can do. I also assure you that people don’t want to do them. We must perform random urine drug screens on healthcare workers that have access to controlled substances. This is the easiest way to identify those with a problem. We could start doing periodic mental health screenings to identify those with a higher risk, then get help for them before addiction has a chance to steal them. We can increase awareness on the scope of the problem and how to identify those that may be using drugs. We can provide more confidential programs to help those who are suffering. Programs that will not punish but will offer them the help they need. Are these extravagant requests? I think not. We need to do something, doing nothing, or little is no longer an option. We need to work together to help each other, not judge those who struggle. We may not be able to stop it, but we can help. We can do something. We can.