The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office called this array of pills a typical drug-overdose death scene.(Photo: Milwaukee County (Wis.) Medical Examiners Office)
MILWAUKEE —<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Twenty people have died of probable heroin overdoses in Milwaukee County in the past two weeks, a toll the county medical examiner's office called unprecedented.
This<span style="color: Red;">*</span>county of almost 1 million residents typically averages one heroin death every three days, the office said Thursday. The medical examiner is investigating the possibility that other drugs, such as fentanyl, played a role in the deaths.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate similar to morphine, but it can be 40 to 50 times more powerful than street heroin. It is particularly deadly when mixed with other drugs.
As of July 1, 39 people died in the state's most populous county from fentanyl-related overdoses, nine more fentanyl deaths than during all of 2015 — which was itself a record.
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Heroin-related deaths also continue to rise, according to the medical examiner's office. So far this year, 61 deaths have been recorded, compared with 110 in 2015.<span style="color: Red;">*</span>The total number of drug-related deaths so far this year is 143, compared with a record 255 deaths in 2015.
"We tend to overuse words such as 'unprecedented' and 'horrific,' but the death and destruction connected to heroin and opioids is indeed unprecedented and horrific," Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said earlier this summer.<span style="color: Red;">*</span>"The problem is enormous and growing, and all of our citizens need to wake up to these facts."
Nationally, use of heroin has risen<span style="color: Red;">*</span>dramatically in the past decade, according to the federal<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Centers for Disease<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Control and Prevention. Heroin deaths have tripled since 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.
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Among young adults ages 18 to 25, heroin use<span style="color: Red;">*</span>more than doubled. Across the USA,<span style="color: Red;">*</span>10,574 people died from heroin overdoses in 2014, the most recent year that statistics are available. Deaths from the drug<span style="color: Red;">*</span>increased sixfold<span style="color: Red;">*</span>from 2001 to 2014 and increased 26% from just 2013 to 2014.
Overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl, soared by 80% between 2013 and '14, CDC data shows. The center put deaths related to synthetic opioids other than methadone at roughly 5,500 nationally in 2014.
Milwaukee County's latest spike in drug deaths began around 8 a.m. CT July 27 when the body of a 48-year-old Illinois man was found seated upright on a couch of a friend's house in Brown Deer, Wis.,<span style="color: Red;">*</span>according to medical examiner's reports.
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A few hours later, the body of a 60-year-old man was found in the bedroom of his Milwaukee home.
In the days that followed, the body of a 27-year-old woman would be found in an alley in the city; the body of a 61-year-old man would be found seated in his living room with a plate of food on his lap; a 35-year-old woman would be found by her daughter on a bed cluttered with drug paraphernalia.
Three people died Aug. 6 alone:
All the deaths since July 27 remain under investigation.
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Elsewhere, the problem of heroin-related overdose deaths<span style="color: Red;">*</span>is equally grim:
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland is the largest city, had 47 heroin overdose deaths in July and 15 the first week in August, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. That county, home to more than 1.2 million people, has had more than 200 deaths so far this year.
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>In all of New Hampshire, where 1.3 million people live, more than 113 people as if July 8<span style="color: Red;">*</span>have died from overdoses from fentanyl, heroin or a combination of the two, WEVO-FM, Concord, reported.
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>In Horry County, S.C., where Myrtle Beach is the signature city, four or five heroin deaths a week are translating to more than 20 a month, WBTW-TV, Myrtle Beach-Florence, reported. Since January, emergency crews have responded to more than 500 overdose calls<span style="color: Red;">*</span>in a county of about 300,000 residents.
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>In Jefferson County, Ala., where Birmingham is located, 67 people died from either heroin, fentanyl or a combination of the two in the first six months of 2016, The Birmingham News reported. The county has a population of 660,000.
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Just on Staten Island, one of New York City's five boroughs, 56 heroin overdose deaths had been reported this year through mid-July, according to the Staten Island Advance. Naloxone, an antidote that counteracts an opioid overdose, saved 20 users' lives. The borough has about 475,000 residents.
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Onondaga County, N.Y., where Syracuse is the county seat, had 29 heroin deaths in the first six months of the year and is on track to surpass last year's deaths by more than a third, The (Syracuse) Post-Standard reported. The county has about 470,000 residents.
•<span style="color: Red;">*</span>In Lafayette Parish, La., law-enforcement officials are concerned about an explosion of fentanyl deaths, 13 so far this year in the parish of about 250,000 people. The number for all of 2015 was three.
Contributing: Seth Dickerson,<span style="color: Red;">*</span>The (Lafayette, La.) Daily Advertiser. Follow<span style="color: Red;">*</span>Crocker Stephenson on Twitter:<span style="color: Red;">*</span>@crocker_mjs
[h=3]Wisconsin heroin cases increasing[/h]The number of cases that the Wisconsin State Crime Lab processed has increased in almost every county in the past three years.
Source: Wisconsin Department of Justice
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