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Why 2020 Saw The Most Drug Related Deaths In Milwaukee County History

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A record 473 people are estimated to have died from drug overdoses in Milwaukee County in 2020.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office estimates that there will have been 473 deaths due to drug overdoses in the county in 2020 once they have completed every investigation. That would be a 13% increase from 2019, which had already set a record for most deaths in a year at 418.

In a November article for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Edgar Mendez dove into the crisis of drug overdoses in Milwaukee County. He says drug overdoses have been trending up for the past 15 years but that this year was an explosion.

“The main reason why there are more deaths than there have been in the past is related to opioids, they’re very deadly, especially with the introduction of fentanyl,” says Mendez.

He says opioids like fentanyl getting mixed into more drugs along with the pandemic just made the problem even worse.

“The pandemic has made the issue worse because it’s increased social isolation, caused people to lose their jobs, which causes added stress,” he says. “Stress and isolation, those are triggers for drug use so people that maybe they were trying to quit went back to drug use and then people already using drugs, it accelerated their drug use.”

While the city uses drugs like Narcan to save people who have overdosed on opioids and will open investigations to illegal drug use, an important key to their work is trying to intervene and help those at risk of overdosing.

The Milwaukee Fire Department has partnered with the Health Department and other community organizations to create the Milwaukee Overdose Response Initiative (MORI). This group reaches out to those who survive overdoses and try to connect them with resources so that there isn’t a next overdose.

If you or someone you know needs help with drug addiction, please reach out to these resources:

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.
Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July and Digital Producer in January 2021.