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For Immediate Release
August 31, 2021
Jennifer Miller, 608-266-1683
Elizabeth Goodsitt, 608-266-1683

DHS Renews Commitment to Reducing Drug Overdoses in Wisconsin

August 31 is Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin

Governor Tony Evers has proclaimed August 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin, and the Department of Health Services (DHS) is urging residents to reflect on the impact overdoses have had on families and friends of people who use drugs in every corner of the state, and to renew our commitment to end overdoses in Wisconsin.

“There isn’t a community in our state that hasn’t been impacted by the opioid epidemic, and Wisconsinites who are struggling with substance use disorders deserve our kindness, compassion, and respect as they work toward recovery,” said Gov. Evers. “I’m glad to be declaring today Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin to remind us all of the work we have left to do to increase prevention and provide folks with the resources and support they need.”

Between the years 2014-2020, the most recent data available, Wisconsin had 6,845 drug overdose deaths. While most were opioid overdoses (5,338), multi-drug overdoses were the second most common cause of deaths in that time period (3,101), followed by heroin, cocaine, and meth.

“Although Wisconsin continues to make progress in our response to the opioid overdose epidemic, other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine also account for many of the overdoses in our state each year,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “We want anyone struggling with a substance use disorder and their loved ones to know that this is a disease that can be treated, that recovery is possible, and that overdose is not inevitable.”

“Multi-drug overdoses are especially concerning because they show that many different drugs are available and the combinations can be deadly,” said DHS Director of Opioid Initiatives Paul Krupski. “We also know that drugs can be laced with potent substances like fentanyl, which increase the risk for an overdose since the user is likely unaware that the substance they’re using has been laced.”

At the same time DHS is working to stop drug overdoses, it’s also addressing health inequities as they relate to substance use and treatment. Similar to other health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, data available through the data dashboards identified Black and Native American populations as being disproportionately impacted and facing higher rates of overdose deaths. Racial health inequities are driven by underlying factors known as “social determinants of health.” Vulnerability to addiction and the higher rates of overdose deaths experienced by communities of color can be the result of systemic marginalization, structural racism, generational trauma, and inequitable access to resources like safe housing, employment opportunities, and recovery or support programs.

“Policies to improve health outcomes among marginalized populations have been found repeatedly to improve the health of the population at large,” Krupski added. “DHS is committed to supporting all Wisconsinites, no matter who or where they are, to prevent drug-related harms as we continue to look at any issue through a health equity lens.”

DHS has also increased funding for work that supports people who have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences—both of which can increase someone’s chance of developing substance use disorder.

“We know that addiction is a disease. We want to change the conversation from ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’” Krupski continued. “Not only do we want to prevent substance use, but we want to help people get the care and treatment that addresses the cause of their substance abuse,”

People looking for substance use treatment and recovery services are encouraged to use the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline, which is free and available 24/7.

Last revised August 31, 2021