MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County leaders announced Tuesday that the county is receiving $71 million in an opioid settlement. This comes at a time when Milwaukee County is on pace to break yet another overdose death record in 2021.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office says if trends continue, the county is expected to lose 630 people to opioid overdoses this year alone. The M.E.’s office says a vast majority of those deaths are being traced to a synthetic opioid called fentanyl.
"A parent should never have to bury their child,” said Isaac Solis of Milwaukee. “It's tough."
It’s almost been three years since Solis lost his son Bubba to fentanyl poisoning.
"It's not thinking about him every day, it's thinking about him every minute,” he said.
Bubba’s life was cut short at just 25 years of age due to a synthetic opioid Solis had no clue even existed.
"He was a great kid,” Solis said. “As he got older, he got in a few car accidents. As far as we know, that's where the addiction came to opioids. After he passed away we did find a bunch of prescriptions for it and eventually he ended up picking stuff up off the street, but what eventually killed him was fentanyl."
Flash forward to this year and the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office says fentanyl has killed more than 400 people in Milwaukee County, making up 80 percent of all confirmed overdose deaths.
"It's primarily prescribed for pain,” said Sara Schreiber with the ME’s office. “It's a really great pain medication usually prescribed for chronic pain, but what we're seeing in these cases is believed to be non-pharmaceutical fentanyl so it's something that is being illicitly prepared outside of the pharmaceutical industry."
Over the years, Schreiber says fentanyl has replaced heroin as the most lethal street drug.
Overdose deaths soared to record levels last year in Wisconsin amid the pandemic. This year in Milwaukee County, medical examiner data shows overdoses are causing roughly three times as many deaths as homicides, and taking nearly as many lives as COVID-19.
"Anything that's purchased from the street has a high likelihood of having fentanyl in it unfortunately, so folks need to be extremely careful about what they're consuming and be very cognizant of the fact that could be present,” Schreiber said. “Have Narcan available, talk to somebody and be able to have that on scene."
Solis says he grew frustrated by a lack of awareness to fentanyl deaths.
"It is in the shadows, nobody knows about it,” he said.
He recently launched a social media campaign called “One Pill Kills”. He’s hoping to alert parents, young adults and even children of the dangers.
"There's no room for experimenting with drugs anymore,” he said. “You take a half a pill, you don't know what's in it and if it came from the street, you don't know what's in it. If it's not coming from a pharmacy, don't take it."
In addition to more than 400 fentanyl-related deaths in Milwaukee County so far this year, the M.E.’s office says another hundred could be added to that total due to toxicology results that are still pending.