Silent Killer: The Fentanyl Epidemic in Wisconsin
A new report from Forward Analytics, Silent Killer: The Fentanyl Epidemic in Wisconsin, shows our state in the middle of an epidemic of drug overdose deaths driven largely by illegal fentanyl.
“Like the nation, Wisconsin is experiencing a true crisis of drug overdoses, particularly fatal ones due to fentanyl,” said Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp, who authored the study. “This is now the number one killer of Wisconsin residents ages 25 to 54. It’s stunning.”
According to the new study, overdose deaths associated with synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) increased more than 1,000% from 2015 through 2021, claiming more than 4,300 Wisconsin lives.
Fentanyl is an opioid that is used by doctors to treat severe pain. However, illicit forms of the drug are now being produced and distributed in liquid, gel, and powder form. Illicit fentanyl is also being put into pills that look like OxyContin, Percocet, or Adderall pills, and cut into other illegal drugs. The drug is extremely powerful and undetectable by taste, smell, or sight, with as little as two milligrams being deadly.
The new study highlights several demographic groups that have been the most affected. In 2021, the rate of fentanyl deaths among Black and American Indian residents was nearly three times greater than the rate for White residents. Mortality rates for males was 2.6 times greater than for females. Finally, as mentioned above, this epidemic has hit those 25 to 34 years old particularly hard.
Preliminary figures from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that fentanyl deaths in Wisconsin may have plateaued, at least temporarily. CDC figures show 2022 deaths at about 1,300, roughly the same number as in 2021.
“While promising, this fight is far from over,” said Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp, citing figures from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. That agency seized more than 50.6 million fentanyl laced pills nationwide in 2022, with 60% of those tested containing a lethal dose. The agency also seized 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. These seizures represented more than 379 million potentially deadly doses of fentanyl, a number that is greater than the population of the U.S.
Read the full report, “Silent Killer: The Fentanyl Epidemic in Wisconsin,” here.
- The mortality rate for fentanyl among men is 2.6 times greater than among women
- Mortality rates for Black and American Indian residents is nearly three times greater than the rate for white residents. For Wisconsin’s Black population, mortality rates nearly tripled between 2019 and 2021.
- If fentanyl-related deaths was a ranked cause, in 2020 it would have been 2.6 times greater than the number two killer (motor vehicle accidents) among those 25 to 34.
- During 2015-21, fentanyl was linked to more than 4,300 deaths in Wisconsin, resulting in 155,000 years of potential life lost.