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The opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP) The opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP)

The opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen. (AP)

By Laura Schulte February 6, 2024

Yes, there were over 1,400 opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin in 2022

If Your Time is short

  • The number of people who died from opioids in 2022 rose to 1,421

  • Those deaths, in large part, are due to the prevalence and popularity of mixing fentanyl into other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin

The number of opioid deaths has been steadily growing in Wisconsin, a fact that has been shown in data since the early 2000s. 

As the number of deaths has continued to rise, except for a small drop in the year before the pandemic, opioids and their use both illicitly and legally has come under fire, with politicians taking aim at how to solve the problem. 

In a Jan. 21 post on X, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., took aim at the "unacceptable" number of opioid deaths in Wisconsin over the next few years. 

"Wisconsin had over 1400 opioid deaths in 2022," she said. 

Is that true? 

Opioid deaths have increased because of fentanyl

When we contacted Baldwin’s team, it pointed to Wisconsin Department of Health Services data showing that 1,421 deaths in 2022 were related to opioids in the state. 

That number is slightly lower than previous year’s number of 1,427 opioid deaths, but overall, Wisconsin has seen an explosion in the number of deaths related to the drugs. In 2006, the state reported 628 deaths, and since then, the numbers have been growing. 

Opioids are a class of drugs that alleviate pain and may produce a pleasurable effect for their takers. They can be used in several different ways, including a prescription after an injury or surgery to help with pain. But oftentimes, they’re used in nonmedical ways, to cope with painful emotions, trauma or other life experiences. 

Some of the most well-known opioids are prescription pain relievers, fentanyl and heroin. 

The drugs are risky because the brain and body can develop a tolerance to the drugs quickly, meaning more is needed to feel the same effect. That can quickly fuel dependence on the drug, leading to opioid use disorder. 

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In Wisconsin, the largest driver in recent years of opioid-related deaths has been synthetic opioids, and in particular, fentanyl, said Paul Krupski, the state health department’s policy director. Although the department saw the number of opioid deaths drop in the year before the pandemic hit, it rose again with the confinement to home, as well as the anxiety and depression rates that increased during the pandemic. 

"Unfortunately, the pandemic threw a wrench into just about everything in everybody's life, and one of those things that we know for certain happened is that, unfortunately, people turned to using substances or in some cases, using substances more regularly as a way to cope and deal with some issues," he said in an interview. 

"And then really, it was just real unfortunate timing with the fact that fentanyl had really been introduced into the illicit drug supply."

Fentanyl is often mixed into products sold illegally, which allows for the sales of smaller quantities with stronger effects. Dealers can cut their costs by adding bulking agents to fentanyl, too, making it much cheaper to buy than heroin and a reason for the dramatic increase in opioid deaths. Fentanyl can be mixed into heroin, but it is also commonly mixed with cocaine.

In 2022, 91% of people who died from an opioid-related death had a synthetic opioid, such a fentanyl, in their systems, Krupski said. And of those 91%, 72% had another substance found in their system, more commonly a stimulant such as cocaine. 

But despite its popularity for being mixed with other substances, fentanyl is lethal in small amounts. Krupski said that the drug is largely to blame for opioid-related deaths in recent years. 

"I think that the emergence of fentanyl and the prevalence of fentanyl throughout the illicit drug supply is really the primary reason that we continue to see a rise in opioid related deaths in our state, as well as nationally," he said. 

Our ruling

Baldwin claimed Wisconsin had over 1,400 opioid deaths in Wisconsin in 2022. 

Data from the state’s Department of Health Services shows that there were, in fact, 1,421 deaths in the state that year linked to opioid use. 

We rate this claim True. 

Our Sources

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., X, Jan. 21, 2024.

Email conversation with Tammy Baldwin’s media team, Jan. 23, 2024.

Department of Health Services, "Dose of Reality:Opioids Data," Jan. 23, 2024.

Phone conversation with Paul Krupski, policy director, Wisconsin Daepartment of Health Services, Jan. 31, 2024.


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Yes, there were over 1,400 opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin in 2022

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