MADISON, Wis. — There have been more than twice as many suspected opioid overdoses in Wisconsin during the coronavirus pandemic than during the same period last year, which likely can be attributed at least partially to the added stress and isolation many are feeling, health officials said Wednesday.
Preliminary figures from Wisconsin emergency departments show that there were 325 suspected overdoses from March through July 13, compared with 150 during the same time span in 2019, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Paul Krupski, director of Opioid Initiatives at DHS, said in a news release that the pandemic struck just as the state was making strikes in reducing opioid-related deaths.
The department's secretary, Andrea Palm, said in the release that financial pressures and isolation stemming from the pandemic can exacerbate behavioral health and substance abuse problems. Krupski told reporters during a video conference that users have been increasingly turning to synthetic opioids fentanyl and isotonitazene.
"We know that the pandemic as a whole has caused increased stress and anxiety in just about everybody and anybody," Krupski said during the video conference. "And for individuals who have struggled with substance use and may be currently in treatment for that, this adds an extra layer to the challenges that they are encountering during this pandemic."
DHS officials noted that their analysis of calls to 211 Wisconsin, a state help line that connects people with services, shows the pandemic and housing are callers' top two concerns, followed by mental health and addiction. DHS specialists have been following up with callers to ensure that they managed to connect with someone who could help them, they said.
The department reported 712 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state Wednesday, a day after the state set a new record high for daily confirmed cases with 1,117. The state has now seen 44,847 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. The department reported six more people have died of the disease, bringing the total death toll to 865.
In a bit of good news, the percentage of positive tests dipped to 4.8% on Wednesday, down from 7.7% on Tuesday and the lowest daily percentage over the last two weeks.