Fentanyl overdose deaths on the rise in Milwaukee County

Heroin was a factor in 116 people dying last year in Milwaukee County, this year it has killed 82.

Overdosing on heroin can obviously be deadly, while abuse of a lesser-known drug, called fentanyl, is also killing people in Milwaukee County.

"It seems to be what we're seeing in some of our investigations, the scene looks much like a heroin overdose." said Sarah Schreiber, Forensic Technical Director with the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Fentanyl was devolved in the 1960's, and it's used to help people battling cancer manage pain. It's  about 100 times more potent than morphine, and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. That means it's deadly even in small amounts.

Schreiber said, "The number of deaths related to fentanyl are definitely increasing. Most importantly the concentration of the drug found in the body is increasing."

In Milwaukee County, deaths from fentanyl have steadily increased over the last four years after 18 in 2011; 5 died in 2012 from the drug, 11 in 2013, 16 in 2014, and 18 have already died this year.       

The Centers for Disease Control put out a nationwide health advisory about the drug this week. The drug can be mixed with heroin and sold on the streets as something called “China White.”

In Milwaukee County, that doesn't seem to be the case in the 18 people killed by fentanyl this year.


"We're not seeing that in these descendents so it really seems to be two distinct products and one may be being sold as the other." Schreiber said.


In all, 188 people have died in Milwaukee County from drug overdoses this year, on pace to surpass last year's total of 251 according to the examiner's office.

Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy said, "More people are dying in our community from overdoses than from auto accidents from homicides combined."

Murphy will propose adding a position to the city budget in order to help combat drug addiction and overdose.

Effects of fentanyl and heroin can be stopped by a drug called Narcan which paramedics can give in Wisconsin.


Also, there are resources to help you or someone you know battling drug addiction.

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