FILE - fentanyl

(The Center Square)  – Public health managers in Wisconsin have issued a public health advisory over a spike in fentanyl deaths.

The state’s Department of Health Services on Thursday said fentanyl deaths in Wisconsin are up 97% since 2019.

“Over the last year, synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, were identified in 91 percent of opioid overdose deaths and 73 percent of all drug overdose deaths,” DHS’s advisory states. “The sharp increase in overdose deaths is not only impacting those who use opioids. Cocaine deaths involving synthetic opioids increased by 134 percent from 2019 (182) to 2021 (426), and it is estimated that as many as 40 percent of counterfeit pills contain enough fentanyl to be lethal.”

Data shows there were 651 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2019, and 1,280 deaths last year.

“We can’t ignore the greater risks people face by not knowing what is included in the drugs they are taking,” DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said. “This is a public health crisis, and it’s necessary to sound the alarm to prevent unnecessary deaths.”

DHS is pushing to distribute more fentanyl test strips to help drug users know what they have, and offer more Narcan to help people come back after a fentanyl overdose  as solutions.

Wisconsin’s public health advisory comes just about two weeks after Waukesha County issued its own health advisory over fentanyl and opioid deaths.

Drug-related deaths have become Waukesha County’s leading non-natural cause of death for adults ages 18-45 over the past two years. In Waukesha County there were a record 95 drug-related deaths in 2020, and at least another 92 deaths in 2021.

Most of the U.S. has seen dramatic increases in fentanyl-related deaths over the past two years.

Border officers say the vast majority of fentanyl is smuggled into the U.S. across the southern border with Mexico, where cartel operatives manufacture it after receiving precursors from China.