Despite Declining Opioid Prescriptions, Wisconsin Still Hit Hard By Overdoses

By Victoria Kim 11/09/17

Prescribers have shouldered a large part of the blame for the opioid crisis but Wisconsin’s struggles show that the problem is not so black and white.

 Side view of a stressed doctor standing against wall in hospital

After launching a multi-pronged effort to address the abuse of opioid painkillers in Wisconsin, prescriptions have gone down—but drug overdose deaths have not.

The Associated Press reports that opioid-related deaths continue to rise in the Badger State, though data from its prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) shows that the number of opioid prescriptions has gone down.

Doctors who prescribe painkillers have shouldered a large part of the blame for the epidemic of opioid abuse and overdose in the United States. But Wisconsin’s example illustrates that the problem is not so black and white.

According to the state’s PDMP, 17.5 million fewer doses of opioid painkillers were dispensed from April to June of this year. This represents a 12% decline from the same time period in 2016.

Opioid-related deaths have doubled in the past decade, from 5.9 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2006 to 10.7 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2015. The state says that painkillers are largely to blame—with a majority of opioid-related deaths (63%) involving prescription drugs in 2015.

“Prescription opioids have been the main driver of drug overdose deaths and poisonings,” reads a November 2016 report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

State officials are also targeting drugmakers who they say knowingly promoted their products with “deceptive marketing.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday (Nov 7) that 28 Wisconsin counties have filed lawsuits against drug companies including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin and Dilaudid), Endo Pharmaceuticals (Percocet), Johnson & Johnson, and more. A few individual physicians have been named in the lawsuits as well, for allegedly being “instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution.”

“County governments are bearing the brunt of the costs of this crisis,” says Erin Dickinson, a lawyer representing some of the plaintiffs. “Defendants must be held responsible for the devastating effects their actions have produced on counties across this country.”

The plaintiffs are seeking millions of dollars in compensation for costs relating to social services, emergency services, and law enforcement.

“Communities throughout Wisconsin have been suffering the devastating effects of this opioid epidemic for years,” said Jefferson County Board chairman Jim Schroeder. “Families have been destroyed and our hospitals and emergency services overwhelmed because of this opioid epidemic.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr