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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.
 
In hindsight, it's plain to see that the boom in prescription opioids that started in the late 1990s coincided with an increase in opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin and across the U.S.
One barrier to more doctors prescribing medications to treat opioid addiction? Many are confused about how to navigate the regulations, or they're not addiction specialists and are intimidated at the prospect of trying to treat patients with substance use disorders.
Law enforcement in Superior and Douglas County seized the most heroin they've ever seen in 2016.
As much as the opioid epidemic across the United States is often characterized as a rural and suburban problem, it has been devastating in urban areas as well. Of course, this doesn't mean patterns of addiction play out the same way in all settings.
La Crosse County had 23 drug overdose-related deaths in 2016, the most in its history, and proof that it may take some time before state and regional efforts to reduce the heroin epidemic start working.
There's no one single place in Milwaukee County where overdose data is kept. Paramedics respond to an overdose, the medical examiner does an autopsy, the state Department of Justice collects statistics.
Wisconsin's opioid epidemic is driving an increase in motorists who are impaired behind the wheel.
Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said addicts who inject drugs are spreading a disease for which there’s no cure.
Infants born addicted to drugs are one of several unfortunate results of Wisconsin's drug epidemic stemming from the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers.
Wisconsin has responded to the nationwide rise in opioid addiction — fueled by cheap heroin, pain pills, and more recently fentanyl — with a series of bills that emphasize treatment over criminalization. But some of the state's initiatives focus on people already caught up in the criminal justice system.