APPLETON, Wis. (AP) – Heroin deaths increased 10 percent to a record 227 in 2013, reflecting wider use throughout Wisconsin.
Gannett Wisconsin Media reported heroin deaths have increased rapidly in recent years after averaging about 30 per year from 2000 to 2007. Wisconsin had 206 heroin deaths in 2012.
One reason for the increase may be that the popular painkiller OxyContin was reformulated in 2010 to make it harder to grind up for snorting or injection, so addicts switched to heroin.
Deaths also have become more widespread, with 39 of the state’s 72 counties reporting at least one related to heroin last year. A Gannett survey of county coroners and medical examiners found that was up from 33 counties in 2012.
Milwaukee County reported the most deaths, 67, followed by Dane County with 36. Southeastern Wisconsin appears particularly troubled by the drug, with five counties there reporting seven to 12 deaths each.
The tallies do not include indirect deaths, such as that of a Wausau woman who died in 2011 after contracting a staph infection from dirty needles.
Carol Dixon, of Wausau, said her son, Michael Dixon, died in March 2013 after crashing his car while on heroin.
“It’s such a deception that, ‘Oh, I can try this one time, and just for fun,'” Dixon said. “More than likely you’re going to get hooked after that one time, and it has its hold. It is an evil, evil stronghold that people do not have a clue what they’re getting into.”
Experts also say the coroner and medical examiner reports may underestimate deaths.
“Some of this is difficult for us because people who use drugs don’t always report a death,” said Dr. Kristinza Giese, associate medical examiner in Fond du Lac County. “They’ll leave somebody in a house or somewhere for a few days, and . I can’t say the death is due to heroin unless I see that byproduct in the blood and urine.”