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.
 
La Crosse County Division of Health Services director Jason Witt discusses what he describes as a child welfare crisis in Wisconsin. Issues related to the abuse of opioids and methamphetamine are contributing to costs, and local governments agencies are seeking more funding.
The story of opioids in the 21st century is one fraught with urgency, pain and heartbreak.
As the opioid epidemic surges, the fallout on others impacted by the crisis takes shape. A report that makes the case that an uptick in Wisconsin children entering foster care is related to opioid abuse.
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.
Law enforcement officers, emergency medical workers and lab technicians are trained to minimize their exposure to dangerous substances. The increasing use of powerful opioids — which are dangerous to inhale or even touch in very small amounts — is adding unpredictability to these risks.
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.
Synthetic opioids are a powerful class drugs, and users can fatally overdose on them. As these substances become more common, public health workers are grappling with the difficulties of tracking 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.