Wisconsin Drug Deaths On The Rise

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Drug-related deaths are increasing steadily in Wisconsin with the rate of fatal methadone overdoses jumping by 1,000 percent.

A report compiled by UW-Whitewater epidemiologist David Nordstrom shows that from 1999 to 2008 nearly 5,000 deaths were certified as drug-related, “That’s more than one every day and we found out that the majority of them were males and the average was about 43.”

Of those, 90% were accidental overdoses or suicides. Nordstrom says during the ten years there was a shift where legal prescription drug related deaths surpassed those involving illegal narcotics, “Cocaine and other drugs that are associated with fatalities have backed in the prominent position that they had previously held and we see some of these opiate analgesic or pain relieving compounds as rising. So, that’s definitely of some concern.”

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Nordstrom says deaths from the synthetic drug methadone, which is used to treat heroin addiction skyrocketed from 10 in 1999 to 118 in 2008, an increase of more than 1,000.

Tom Ritchie has been a substance abuse coordinator for 30 years and now works with Libertas Treatment Centers in Green Bay. He says abuse of prescription pain killers is reaching epidemic levels. Ritchie also says more young adults with opioid addictions turning to heroin, which is cheaper, “I get calls from all over the state, small towns, rural Wisconsin not because parents found a pot pipe or stash of beer cans under the bed but because they’re finding needles in the sock drawer or a bindle of heroin.”

Ritchie and Nordstrom say that a prescription drug monitoring program, which keeps people from getting pain pills from multiple pharmacies could help stem the rise in opioid abuse.

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