From the medicine cabinet to the morgue

Attorney General Brad Schimel and Milwaukee County Medical Examiner Dr. Brian Peterson
Opioid deaths

MILWAUKEE - The opioid epidemic is in every county in our state, and it’s getting worse. From 2005 to 2016, opioid-related hospital encounters alone increased more than 270% in Wisconsin, and just last year 827 people died of an opioid overdose.

This problem is not specific to one region of the state. In Milwaukee County, there were 294 confirmed opiate deaths in all of 2016. And this year, Milwaukee County has already confirmed 259 opiate deaths – a death toll that grew by 27 between initial drafting and publishing of this article.

The only good news about this epidemic: these deaths are preventable if each of us can get control of what’s in our medicine cabinet.

Four out of five heroin addicts report that prescription narcotic painkillers were the first opiate they abused, and we know that 70% of people abusing prescription painkillers first got them from a family member or a friend. Sometimes through sharing, sometimes through stealing.

That’s the dose of reality: the bodies in the morgue frequently started on this deadly path by using the leftover pills found in medicine cabinets.

The opioid epidemic began in our medicine cabinets, and that’s where we have to go to end it.

On Oct. 28, Drug Take Back Day, people could dispose of any unused or unwanted medications at a drug disposal location near them. By safely disposing of unused prescription and over the counter drugs, we can make sure these medications don’t fall into the hands of someone struggling with addiction.

There are safe and legitimate ways to use prescription painkillers, and when you are prescribed these powerful medications by a medical professional, follow these simple rules:

  • Take prescription painkillers only as prescribed to you and don’t share them.
  • Keep the pills locked up, in a safe for example, in order to prevent abuse and diversion.
  • When you are done with the pills, get rid of any leftovers. Dispose of medications at one of more than 340 safe, free, convenient, and anonymous drug disposal boxes across the state.

Law enforcement, medical examiners, social services, doctors, pharmacists, the legislature, Governor Scott Walker, and the Wisconsin Department of Justice are working very hard to stem this epidemic by increasing access to addiction treatment, changing prescribing guidelines, and dismantling heroin and fentanyl drug trafficking networks.

But government cannot fight this epidemic alone.

We need every household in this state to lock up medications, and safely dispose of any unused or unwanted medications.

If you couldn't make it to a drug disposal box on Oct. 28, many drug disposal boxes are available year-round. Find a drug disposal box near you by going to