WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Wis. (NBC 26) - The number of people who died from overdosing in Winnebago county nearly doubled in 2020 compared to 2019. It was the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded for the county. And today healthcare leaders say they are on track to set a record once again in 2021, surpassing the 37 deaths documented from the year before.
In an effort to change the trend, addiction specialists and health care leaders at the county level are attempting to get more doctors to prescribe the life-saving overdose drug Narcan every time someone legally is prescribed a painkiller medication.
Just this week UW-Oshkosh became one of the first universities in the state to install Narcan boxes in their dorms. It's a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save lives. Unfortunately, overdoses across Winnebago county continue to rise.
"These definitely record numbers; higher than even we've seen five or six years ago when we were really kind of focused on this and worried about it," says Dr. Eric Smiltneek of Advocate Aurora Health.
Dr. Smiltneek is an addiction medicine physician. He says one key component to preventing overdose deaths is for doctors to prescribe Narcan to patients at the same time as they pick up pain killer medications.
"It's something that has been around for a while, but I think with this recent uptick in overdose events we really started to think, are there other things we can be doing that we're not doing?" asked Dr. Smiltneek.
The majority, 76 percent, of overdose deaths in Winnebago county in 2020 were linked to the opioid Fentanyl, which is either prescribed by a doctor or purchased illegally. And for those encouraging more physicians to prescribe Narcan for all pain killer medications, they say it could help the county get a handle on overdose deaths in 2022.
"Of all the deaths that we reviewed, in all of the cases in our community, none of their homes had Narcan in them," says Stephanie Gyldenvand of the Winnebago County Health Department.
Gyldenvand says co-prescribing Narcan alongside an opioid purchase has been proven to save lives. But just as important is it begins the process of normalizing the overdose medication for a community, all in an effort to help family, friends, or even strangers from enduring an untimely death.
"Having that Narcan is life-saving, period. Narcan doesn't solve all of our drug problems in the world, but it does save a life at the moment a person is experiencing an overdose so they can be connected to help down the line," adds Gyldenvand.