As with much of the rest of the country, Wisconsin has seen a rise in opioid overdoses since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wisconsin saw drug overdose deaths increase by 10.2 percent between December 2018 and December 2019. The average increase across the U.S. at the same time was only 4.8 percent.
Dr. Michael Miller, faculty in the addiction medicine fellowship program of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said opioid overdoses have increased because of the pandemic, but that the issue doesn’t receive enough attention.
“Much of the news media has not paid attention to this urgent public health crisis due to the pandemic, but we must recognize it and do all we can to address it,” he said.
According to the Madison police department, between January and June, the department received 139 calls for overdoses, compared to 102 in the same period in 2019 – a 36 percent increase. To date this year, the department has seen 20 opioid-related deaths in Madison, as compared to the 29 deaths during the entire year in 2019.
Miller said new and stronger drugs, like Isotonitazene or “Iso,” a synthetic opioid, and fentanyl, when combined with the stress, anxiety, depression, and other conditions created by the pandemic are likely contributing to the increased overdoses. The pandemic has forced people into great isolation, Miller said, and restricted patients from getting treatment.
“Sadly, this is a perfect storm fueled by job loss and economic hardship, social isolation and ever-stronger available opioid-based illicit drugs,” Miller said.