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Drug Overdoses Continue To Increase In Milwaukee County

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The Milwaukee Medical Examiner’s Office projects almost 100 more drug overdoses in 2020 than in 2019. ";

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office expects to break 2019’s fatal overdose rate by nearly 100 deaths if current trends continue.

According to a Sept. 15 tweet, in the span of one week the office investigated: 43 natural deaths, eight homicides, eight probable overdoses, six accidental deaths, five COVID-19 deaths, and two suicides. 

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly complicated many aspects of our lives, but does it impact how we track deaths? And has the pandemic significantly worsened overdose rates?

In 2019, Milwaukee averaged eight drug deaths per week. In 2020, the average has been 11 per week, according to Sara Schreiber, the forensic technical director of the medical examiner’s office. She says the office has seen new substances used in combination with opioids like fentanyl, which are contributing to the higher rates of drug-related deaths.

While the rate of drug-related deaths has increased, Schrieber says "we are still showing the same approximate percentages across racial diversity within Milwaukee County related to drug death."

In 2019, 60% of drug deaths were white, 27% were Black and 9% were Hispanic. So far this year, 56% are white, 29% Black and 10% are Hispanic. Overall, 70% of drug-related deaths are male and 30% are female.

"It is unfortunate the statistics that we have behind our data, but the good news is that that data is always used to help prevent deaths in the future," says Schreiber. 

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Schreiber says that as COVID-19 continues to spread, the efforts on drug overdoses cannot be lost. 

"It's important to keep the light shining on other causes of death. Drug-related death, as we've pointed out today, is still increasing. The array of substances is still changing," she says. 

Schreiber notes we've already surpassed some of 2019's numbers and it's only September. Especially during the pandemic, she recommends keeping an eye out for people suffering from substance use disorders to help slow the increase in preventable drug deaths.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.
Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July.