MILWAUKEE — Two UW-Milwaukee students have died on campus within the past year after they overdosed on the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
The parents of the two students who died in separate incidents say both freshmen thought they were buying prescription pills to get high, but their autopsies found fentanyl was present instead. The parents say the university is not doing enough to prevent this from happening again.
Erin and Rick Rachwal are left looking at photos to reflect on memories of their oldest son Logan who is no longer with them.
"He had an amazing family and we did everything we could to save him,” Erin said.
The 19-year-old was in his freshman year at UW-Milwaukee when his parents got the devastating call last February.
"As soon as his (friend's) name popped up on my phone, I knew something was wrong,” Erin said.
They rushed to campus to learn Logan had overdosed in his dorm room. An autopsy found fentanyl caused his death. Erin says a police investigation found that Logan thought he was buying a prescription pain pill from a drug dealer.
"I do know he wasn't intentionally taking fentanyl, absolutely not,” she said.
Just nine months later, the Rachwals learned a similar situation tragically unfolded in the same dorm building for another UWM freshman, Cade Reddington. Erin reached out to Cade’s mother to offer support.
"I think there is such a stigma with families who are struggling with this and there's such a stigma of he's a bad kid or a reckless kid who came from a bad home and that's not what's happening with fentanyl,” Erin said.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office says it saw a record year of drug overdoses in 2021. Technical Forensic Director Sara Schreiber says fentanyl was present in 80 percent of those deaths.
"It's far too common unfortunately in our casework to find a situation where it's pronounced as unknown material or unsuspected that that was an exposure to fentanyl,” Scheiber said.
As months passed, the Rachwals say they grew frustrated with UWM’s response.
"There was nothing that came out from the university, it was all swept under the rug,” Rick said. “There was nothing publicized about it. There were no warnings put out."
“This is a tragedy, it’s terribly sad,” UWM Campus Alcohol and Other Drug Coordinator Susan Cushman said.
TMJ4 News asked Cushman whether students were notified of the overdose deaths on campus. "There is an email that goes out, I don't know if it goes out, I don't know if it goes to all students,” Cushman responded.
A couple of days after our interview with Cushman, UWM sent out its winter break reminder which included a warning to students about the dangers of unknowingly consuming fentanyl. Just days into the new year, UW-Milwaukee police shared information about the “One Pill Can Kill” nationwide campaign on social media.
"I always think to this day, would this other kid who passed in November, if he would have seen posters after Logan passed all year long, would he have thought twice to take that pill? It's possible,” Erin said.
Erin and Rick say they are now working with UW-System administrators to put fentanyl awareness posters and Narcan kits on all college dorm floors to prevent overdoses from turning fatal.
"There's fire extinguishers on every dorm floor and did any kids die this year from a fire at UWM? I don't think so, but there are kids dying from drugs all over our country,” Erin said.
The Rachwals say students also need to know that there are laws in place that provide legal immunity for a person who overdosed as well as those who report it.