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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.
 
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The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has embarked on a pilot program for soon-to-be released inmates and offenders on community supervision who suffer from opioid addiction. This medication-assisted treatment approach centers on a drug called Vivitrol.
Wisconsin's Controlled Substance Board recently published its first quarterly report on database established in 2013 to prevent abuse.
Data about substance abuse is plentiful. The difficult part is pulling together all that information, analyzing it, and identifying the patterns.
As opioids increasingly dominate the national conversation about substance abuse, addiction and overdose deaths, public health professionals are asking some difficult questions.
Wisconsin has seen a surge in fatal overdoses during the last decade, and the state is catching up to other states in drug-related deaths.
A public health advisory issued on Sept. 22 by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services epitomized an ongoing sea change in attitudes about drug abuse and addiction as opioid overdoses continue to increase.
Wisconsin public health officials decided to call for a public advisory after reviewing the severity of the opioid crisis in the state. Wisconsin State Health Office Karen McKeown discusses the growing scope of this epidemic of addiction.
The landscape of addiction is changing, and so is the way Wisconsinites approach policies addressing substance abuse.