Sawyer County battles alarming number of fatal fentanyl overdoses

Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 7:00 PM CDT
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HAYWARD, WI. (Northern News Now) - The number of fatal fentanyl overdoses throughout the nation is nearly doubling each year.

Sawyer County is no exception to this trend.

The rural county in northwestern Wisconsin has the second highest rate of overdoses in the entire state, second to only Milwaukee County.

Sawyer County Public Health Specialist Joyce Knowlton said they are not shying away from the stats.

“We want everyone to know that we as a community are not going to let fentanyl take our community over,” Knowlton said.

Authorities in Sawyer County said in this year alone, 13 residents have died from a fentanyl overdose.

This death toll is already more than last year’s total of nine.

To tackle that growing issue, Sawyer County launched a Fentanyl Awareness Team in May, which includes law enforcement, government officials, and concerned members of the community.

This team is only part of the county’s latest substance abuse awareness initiative.

This month the Sawyer County Board also approved $400,000 to help find the root of these alarming numbers.

“We don’t know why we have why fentanyl is here,” Knowlton said. “We don’t know why we have the overdose death rate that we do, and we need to find that out.”

Public health officials say many of the overdoses result from the lack of education about fentanyl.

Only two milligrams of fentanyl can cause a fatal overdose and is often laced with other drugs like heroin, meth, and even marijuana.

“County Public Health recently did that show that there was a lack of awareness of fentanyl and use of fentanyl and actually fentanyl being laced in other drugs,” Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julie McCallum said.

The Fentanyl Awareness Team plans to use its $127,000 share of the funds to educate the community about fentanyl through media efforts and presentations.

“Our slogan is, ‘Don’t be fooled by fentanyl, your future depends on it,” said Knowlton. “Our goal really is to educate our community about the dangers of illicit fentanyl and provide knowledge to save lives.”

The rest of the $400,000 is allocated toward treatment and recovery programs to stop this crisis at every step.

Public health officials encourage everyone to educate themselves on the dangers of fentanyl.

One member of the Fentanyl Awareness Team who lost her daughter to a fentanyl overdose in 2019 started a nonprofit to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl called Forever Joy.

The nonprofit’s website provides local and national resources and information and can be found here.

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