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A closer look at the local rise in fentanyl use

Door County deputies seized 36 packages of the drug Fentanyl a number of syringes and needles during a traffic stop near Sister Bay, June 8, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Door County Sheriff's Dept.)

FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WLUK) -- The investigation continues after a Menasha police officer was exposed to fentanyl while investigating an overdose death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the synthetic drug can be 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

More than two years ago, Bev Kelley-Miller's daughter, Megan, died from a heroin overdose. Kelley-Miller says with the increase in fentanyl use, she doesn't want to see families lose their loved ones.

"People actually flock to where they hear that somebody overdosed, or it's very strong," said Kelley-Miller, who is president of the Megan Kelley Foundation.

Counselors at the Appleton Comprehensive Treatment Center say they're seeing patients addicted to fentanyl.

"We're not seeing it everyday, but it is becoming more and more rampant as it makes its way here," said Jake Struhelka, a counselor at the center.

In the Fox Valley, a metropolitan law enforcement group works to address the problem at its roots.

"We do try and arrest the dealers," said Brad Dunlap, project director of the Lake Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group. "We target the people who are importing this stuff, and distributing this stuff."

They say dealers and users may often not even recognize fentanyl. It can be laced in minute quantities in heroin, without changing the appearance.

"The people making these concoctions don't understand the drug that they're using," Dunlap said.

But why would people take something so potent, that has such a high chance of being fatal?

"There's that notion of this can't happen to me," Struhelka said. "Then there's this other thing, 'ooh this must be really good.'"

Experts say since fentanyl is so incredibly potent that officers dealing with overdose victims, and members of the public, can be at risk.

"If you're in contact with fentanyl dust or fentanyl particles, and just simply inhaling, that could potentially cause you to have some opiate effects," said Dr. Eric Smiltneek, a ThedaCare family physician.

Experts recognize the fentanyl trend may continue for some time, and treatment centers continue to fill up.

"It's sad and disheartening that our population is going up," said Tracy Williams, clinical supervisor at the Appleton Comprehensive Treatment Center, "but on the other hand, it's encouraging that people are reaching out and seeking services to get help."

The state Department of Justice is hoping a new resource can protect those in law enforcement from accidental exposure to fentanyl. Attorney General Brad Schimel says officers will be allowed to perform their own field tests at the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory Bureau. Right now, officers often conduct tests at uncontrolled locations, such as crime scenes or evidence collection rooms within their precincts. Schimel says this resource is one tool that may reduce the risk of exposure.

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