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Fentanyl declared health crisis in Waukesha, Washington counties

79 people died in Waukesha County due to overdose in 2021, with 62 of those deaths directly related to fentanyl.
Overdose Deaths
Posted at 6:32 AM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 14:10:13-04

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Monday morning leaders in Waukesha and Washington counties came together to discuss the fentanyl crisis.

Elected officials met to lay out the actions they're taking in both Waukesha and Washington counties to address what they've labeled a fentanyl crisis.

79 people died in Waukesha County due to overdose in 2021, with 62 of those deaths directly related to fentanyl. Leaders in Waukesha say every single one of those lives lost is one too many.

Back in June, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a public health alert because of the increase in opioid overdoses at emergency rooms in Washington County. That alert was triggered by four suspected overdoses in the span of a week.

Statewide data also tells a story. Across Wisconsin the opioid epidemic has spread to urban and rural communities, affecting all genders, all races and many age groups.

County leaders in southeastern Wisconsin and addiction recovery professionals say the pandemic put stress on the challenges of fighting addiction, both for people and local governments.

Read Waukesha County's statement about the effort:

(Waukesha, WI) - Today, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow declared fentanyl a community health crisis. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is fueling overdose deaths across the US and Wisconsin.

Today’s declaration includes County directives to:

  • Distribute opioid settlement money, in partnership with the County Board, to support Narcan training, the District Attorney’s pre-trial diversion programming, and other related purposes.  
  • Implement the Overdose Fatality Review (OFR) initiatives, in partnership with public and private entities and surrounding counties to share data and best practices.  
  • Launch a local public information initiative utilizing the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s ‘One Pill Can Kill’ campaign.  
  • Create a set of measurable objectives to track the county’s efforts in the fight against fentanyl that will be evaluated on a quarterly basis.   

“Many people think they are taking a prescription medication, but they are taking fentanyl instead,” said Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow. “This deadly drug is appearing in every community across the United States, including here at home. Now, we are doubling down on our work to save lives.”

Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often found in counterfeit pills that are made to resemble prescription drugs. This includes prescription pain relievers, like oxycodone or stimulants. Individuals are at risk for fentanyl poisoning if they take pills from any source that is not a licensed pharmacy.

In Waukesha County, drug-related deaths became the leading non-natural cause of death for adults ages 18-45 in 2020 and 2021, driven by a rise in fentanyl poisoning. Waukesha County saw a record ninety-five drug-related deaths in 2020. In 2021, at least ninety-two people died from drug-related causes, with ten cases still being investigated.

Overdose Prevention Efforts in Waukesha County 

The Fentanyl Community Health Crisis Declaration is just one of many ways Waukesha County is working to fight the opioid crisis. Waukesha County utilizes a collective impact approach through multiple programs focused on prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

  • On Monday, July 25, the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department’s announced that its Metro Drug Unit will transition into a unit of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) later this year. As a federal task force, the Metro Drug Unit will have an enhanced ability to continue the reduction of available controlled substances within Waukesha County. They will also be able to pursue investigations that lead to source suppliers outside of Waukesha County. Learn more.  

  • Waukesha County is working to expand a program that embeds a counselor into the Sheriff’s Department to expedite care for mental health crises. 

  • In May, Waukesha County leaders announced new efforts to prevent substance use in the community through allocation of approximately $200,000 to expand prevention efforts in schools and the community.  

  • Earlier this year, the Waukesha County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) added an additional full-time peer support specialist to its Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Use Services Clinic Staff.  

  • The Waukesha County Heroin Task Force has relaunched its collaborative work to reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic in the County. Action Teams of key community stakeholders work collaboratively in three key areas: Prevention, Harm Reduction, and Treatment & Recovery to achieve results within a calendar year. 

  • HHS maintains a strong relationship with the AODA Volunteers of Waukesha County, who provide valuable outreach, education and support services to individuals in recovery, or who are considering abstinence from drugs or alcohol.  

  • The Women’s Health and Recovery Project (WHARP), coordinated by Waukesha County HHS, assists women with substance use disorders, and their children, who have complex needs with issues such as housing, employment, mental health, physical health, transportation, and childcare.   

  • From May 2017 to July 23, 2022, more than 305 documented lives have been saved, at least 303 used the overdose reversal drug Naloxone/Narcan, as a result of the Waukesha County HHS Naloxone Project. 

  • From May 2017 to June 2022, people who are using, their family members and friends, First Responders, and the general public have been helped through: 521 Naloxone administration training sessions to 4,918 individuals, which includes 1,048 law enforcement personnel. 7,170 Naloxone kits have been distributed free of charge. 

  • Waukesha County participates in multiple statewide initiatives, such as Drug Treatment Court, National Prescription Drug Takeback Day and the Wisconsin Injection Drug Use Prevention Project 

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