Series: The Opioid Epidemic In Wisconsin

Opioid overdoses kill hundreds of Wisconsinites every year, amid a nationwide surge in painkiller and heroin abuse that's been building since the turn of the century. Opioids are a category of pain relief drugs that include long-known substances like morphine and heroin, but also powerful synthetic pharmaceuticals like hydrocodone and fentanyl. Years of widespread opioid prescriptions helped initiate the crisis, and the increasing cheap cost of these drugs fueled the spread of abuse in rural, suburban and urban communities alike. All levels of government are mobilizing to address opioid abuse, and like many states, Wisconsin is adopting policies that focus on public health approaches over emphasizing criminalization. As the contours of this epidemic continues to shift, so do efforts to contain and reverse it among health care providers, law enforcement and community organizations.
 
The opioid crisis has encroached on arguably all levels of society across the United States, the federal government officially deemed it a public health emergency. An estimated 91 people die every day from an opioid overdose.
The opioid crisis is a grave and growing burden on local governments, in one way or another.
The opioid crisis is hitting rural and suburban areas hard, but that doesn't mean people in Wisconsin's largest city have been spared.
Toxicology labs like the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene are working to keep up with these unfamiliar opioids so law enforcement and health officials can better understand their impact and prevent their spread.
Novel opioids pose dangers to the first responders and lab technicians who deal with the aftermath of overdose deaths and drug-related arrests.
A diverse array of potent synthetic drugs are becoming more prominent in the opioid crisis, creating difficulties for medical investigators and public health officials.
As more people die of overdoses — sometimes after unknowingly using highly potent opioids — public health officials are also struggling for clarity.
As more and more Wisconsinites die of opioid overdoses, public and private toxicology labs are ground zero for understanding an ever-evolving mix of illicit drugs.
Over the course of 2016, Richland County in southwestern Wisconsin had five drug overdose deaths, one of which involved a synthetic opioid. This latter case startled the county coroner's office.
Medication-assisted treatment tackles substance use disorders by combining behavioral therapy like counseling with a prescription medicine.