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Record number of overdose deaths in Winnebago County for 2023

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Record number of overdose deaths in Winnebago County for 2023

June 11, 2024 7:37 AM CDT


OSHKOSH, WI – (WISS & WGBW) – In 2023, Winnebago County saw a record number of overdose deaths with 47. The majority of overdose deaths in Winnebago County occurred in individuals ages 18 to 44. That’s according to the 2023-24 Annual Report by the Winnebago County Overdose Fatality Review (OFR).

“In the past few years we’ve seen an increase of the 25 to 54 age range, that people are dying from overdose deaths,” said Jennifer Skolaski, Project Manager of OFR. “This year was the first year we went under 20 (years old) for kids dying over overdose deaths. So that 18-24 we’re seeing an increase. But we’re also seeing – with our non-fatal overdose data – we’re seeing that skewing younger too.”

Skolaski said while the report explores overdose deaths in the county, it only shows a sliver of the problem facing the county in terms of drug use and abuse.

“This number is alarming, but it also does not capture every non-fatal overdose that has happened in our community,” said Skolaski. “This is just a small piece of the problem.”

The report doesn’t measure the number of non-fatal overdoses experienced by people in the county. Skolaski says those numbers are harder to track.

“We have data from emergency departments and law enforcement. But with access to Narcan being so wide – Which is the best way to prevent overdose deaths, having that access to Narcan,” Skolaski said. “A lot of people don’t report that they have had a non-fatal overdose.”

Skolaski says the three main drugs that are causing the overdoses seen in Winnebago County are methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl.

“We saw 31 of the 47 overdose deaths being connected to fentanyl,” said Skolaski. “That is a decrease. The previous year we had seen a larger percentage of the cases being related to fentanyl.”

2021 was the previous record holder for overdose deaths in the county at 41. In 2022, there were 37 overdose deaths. Despite the numbers, Skolaski said it is important to continue to move forward with hope.

“When we see this alarming number, we know how massive of an issue it is,” said Skolaski. “But, I think, if we can continue to have hope then we are able to move forward and really solve the problem.”

The OFR team is committed to making new recommendations, creating new programs, and trying new things to find solutions and help for those dealing with addiction.

Narcan Availability 

The best way to prevent an overdose death is with Narcan, which is the brand name of the drug Naloxone. The drug reverses an opioid overdose. It blocks the effects of opiates on the brain and restores regular breathing.

Narcan is widely available from Public Health Vending Machines in Winnebago County located at the Oshkosh Administration Building and at the Neenah Human Services Building. Skolaski said clinics, law enforcement partners and Walgreens all have Narcan. 

“We always say for people that are struggling, it’s great to have Narcan. But also, those that have loved ones that are struggling, you never know when you might be able to save their life,” Skolaski said.  

One of the easiest ways to locate Narcan in the area is the use the “We Heart You” app. There is a Narcan map under the “Harm Reduction” tab.

OFR Priorities to prevent overdose deaths

Based on the cases reviewed and the data trends, the OFR has determined they will focus on the following priorities for 2024-2025:

  • Close Gaps in communication between systems to strengthen the continuum of care.
  • Identify children falling between the gaps and connect them with care.
  • Focus on preventative efforts.

Skolaski says many of their efforts focus on childhood trauma.

“So many of the victims that we review have been victims of childhood trauma. But also, so many of them are leaving kids behind. We’ve seen this whole generation of kids that are growing up without parents because they’ve died of fatal overdoses,” said Skolaski. “As these number skew, that’s really where we’re putting so much of our prevention efforts and so many of our intervention efforts in those younger age groups as well.”

How to find help or get involved

Skolaski says the OFR’s We Heart You app is a lifeline for people in addiction.

“If I could say one thing that has been great about the OFR, it’s this ‘We Heart You’ motto,” said Skolaski. “We Heart You has been a huge success because it’s creating that movement that ‘We Care.’ And there are people in the community that care no matter how many times it takes to get help.”

Skolaski said the OFR and Winnebago are working to break the stigma that drug overdoses are a choice. Addiction is a disease.

“The people that are struggling are sick. They need help. They need compassion And they need support,” Skolaski said. “And that’s where, with Winnebago County, we’ve had this movement of ‘We Heart You’ that we’re not giving up on you; so please don’t you give up.  

There are numerous ways to get involved, to be a part of the solution, or to find help for you or a loved one dealing with substance abuse issues.

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