Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers available legally by prescription, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and the illegal drug heroin.

Three waves of Wisconsin's opioid epidemic

  • The first wave began in 1999. That’s when deaths involving opioids began to rise following an increase in the prescribing of opioids for the treatment of pain.
  • The second wave began in 2010. That’s when deaths involving heroin began to rise. More people began to use heroin around this time because it was cheaper and more accessible than prescription opioids.
  • The third wave began in 2014. That’s when deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl began to rise. This increase has been linked to fentanyl illegally manufactured and mixed with other drugs like heroin.


If you or someone you know is struggling with opioids, you are not alone. The Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline can help. Call 211 or visit addictionhelpwi.org for information on local services and supports. 



Logo for Resilient Wisconsin: Connected. Stronger. Thriving.Finding healthy ways to cope with challenges is more important than ever. Resilient Wisconsin offers strategies for practicing self-care, maintaining social connections, and reducing stress and anxiety. We're in this together. We'll get through this together.

#HopeActLiveWI: Responding to Wisconsin's Opioid Epidemic

Responding to Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic is one of our top priorities. Through partnerships with state, tribal, county, and local agencies, our approach to this epidemic empowers communities to prevent misuse, expand access to quality treatment and recovery services, and reduce death and harm.

RESOURCE LIBRARY FOR PROFESSIONALS: View information on best practices regarding prevention, treatment, and recovery supports.

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Last Revised: November 30, 2020