'It's a disease': UW Health experts stress concerns over growing opioid epidemic, overdoses

’It’s a disease’: UW Health experts stress concerns over growing opioid epidemic, overdoses

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Amid a growing opioid epidemic nationwide, state experts said they continue to see a large number of opioid overdose-related visits to emergency medical services.

According to a recent report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, "from 2020 to 2021, the number of deaths statewide increased by about 16%, from 1,231 to 1,427," a news release said.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted "the rate of non-fatal opioid overdose patient encounters with emergency medical services has increased by about 4% each quarter from Jan. 2018 to March 2022, which equates to an increase of around 98 to 179 per 10,000 encounters," the release continued. 

These numbers are concerning to people like Dr. Collin Michels, an emergency medicine physician for UW Health. 

"This is a disease," Michels said. "I think a huge part of the increase generally in opioid overdose during the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond, has been driven by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, so infiltrating into the drug supply."

This means that users don't necessarily even know what they're actually ingesting.

"The drugs they're using could have fentanyl or much higher potent opioid in them," Michels said. 

To help combat the problem, Michels noted that education and access to important resources are key. 

"Education on Naloxone, both distribution and usage is incredibly important. We're fortunate in Wisconsin that it's a medication that can be prescribed by any pharmacist," Michels said. "For people that are struggling with opiate use or opiate use disorder, it's pointing them in the direction of evidence-based treatment."

Those treatments could include "effective medications" or hotlines like 2-1-1.

"Wisconsin has a number of excellent resources on all substance use disorders, including opiates," Michels said. 

As of June, 579 people have died related to opioids in Wisconsin, the release said.

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