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Local Fentanyl Awareness Team Shares Tragic Impact on Wisconsin

By Mark Mantey Sawyer County Fentanyl Awareness Team


Fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide, and accidents. The drug landscape is dramatically different from even a few years ago. Fentanyl has turned drug experimentation into a minefield. Prior to fentanyl, it was uncommon for teens to die from an overdose. Now, overdoses can happen on the first, second, or third time a teen uses, if the drug contains fentanyl. They do not have to have a substance use disorder or a history of using other drugs.


The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently released updated information in January 2024 indicating that fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans between the age of 18 and 45. In 2023, DEA seized more than 77 million fentanyl pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder—a record set in a single year, amounting to more than 386 million deadly doses of fentanyl. DEA lab testing in 2023 showed that 7 out of 10 pills tested contained a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from 4 out of 10 in 2021 and 6 out of 10 in 2022.


It only takes a very small dose of fentanyl (2 milligrams) to be lethal.


Fentanyl’s Tragic Impact in Wisconsin


Fentanyl-related deaths do not only occur in some far away state or city. Wisconsin is in the middle of an epidemic of drug deaths, driven largely by illicit fentanyl. In December 2023, Kenosha County saw nine overdoses in a 12-day period. La Crosse County saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2023. In both counties, over 70% involved fentanyl.

Forest County has one of the highest rates of opioid deaths in Wisconsin. From 2014 to 2022, the county had a rate of 34 overdose deaths per 100,000, compared to the state’s rate of 19.2 deaths per 100,000 during the same period.


In Sawyer County, nine deaths were reported per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022 by Health and Human Services. Per capita, Sawyer County ranks second in number of opioid deaths, with Milwaukee County ranking first.


Fentanyl is now the number one killer of Wisconsin residents ages 24 to 54.


Due to the introduction of fentanyl into our nation’s illicit drug supply, young students, some as young as 13, are dying from fentanyl-related poisonings. Unknowing teens think they are getting familiar prescription medicines, such as OxyContin, Percocet or Xanax pills via social media but instead are getting the much more powerful fentanyl and losing their lives.

Fentanyl can be found in most illegal drugs including marijuana, meth, cocaine, heroin, and even vape devices.


Hayward residents, Kim Dale and Tim Metropulos lost their daughter Cassidy Joy to illicit fentanyl poisoning on August 27, 2019.


Four years later Cassidy’s passing continues to impact the family, Hayward, and the community. Kim Dale created the non-profit, Forever Joy, and the website, ForeverJoy.net, as a resource to the community.


In May 2023, the fentanyl awareness campaign, “Don’t be Fooled by Fentanyl, Your Future Depends On It,” was launched. The objective of the campaign is “To raise awareness in our community to the risks and dangers of illicit fentanyl and provide the knowledge to help save lives.”


Since the launch of the campaign, Kim Dale and the campaign team have spoken to teachers and students in the Hayward, Winter, Ashland, and Drummond school districts. Community leaders, including school Superintendents, Craig Olson, Hayward; Andy Grimm, Winter; and Grady Radabaugh, Drummond, enthusiastically embraced the campaign. In addition, Sawyer County Sheriff, Doug Mrotek, and representatives from Sawyer County have participated and supported the campaign. Awareness sessions have been conducted in conjunction with Hayward area community groups, churches, and health fairs.


Campaign members believe all parents, grandparents and caregivers need to be educated on current drug threats and be able to have informed conversations with their kids.

Today’s youth may try drugs for a variety of reasons, including culture — drug / alcohol use being glorified, social media, curiosity, peer pressure, attempting to fit in, to feel better, stress / need to escape, low self-esteem, lack of knowledge / education, and genetics.


What most teens do not know is the danger. A 2022 survey of teens ages 13-17, taken by “Song for Charlie,” a national family-run nonprofit charity dedicated to raising awareness about ‘fentapills’ — fake pills made of fentanyl, showed:


Aware of fentanyl in fake pills — 42%

Knowledgeable about fentanyl — 40%

Describe fentanyl as dangerous — 68%

Unsure of danger — 18%


While our local awareness campaign reached many in the area, with yard signs, billboards, radio programming and presentations, it is far from over. The flow of illicit fentanyl will continue to be smuggled into the area. We believe that with a well-informed community, usage can be curtailed substantially and lives saved. Our young people are the future of the community. Join us in our campaign to educate them on the risks of illicit fentanyl.

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