Since the start of Wisconsin’s opioid addiction epidemic 20 years ago, more than 8,500 residents have died from opioid overdoses.
That’s nearly the same number as the population of McFarland. With few exceptions, the death toll has climbed every year, driven by three waves of the crisis, according to the state Department of Health Services.
The first wave, which started in 1999, came after an increase in opioid prescriptions for pain.
The second wave, in 2010, was spurred by rising use of heroin. In 2014, a surge in synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, fueled the third wave.
State spending to address the problem, which mostly relies on federal funds, has gone from $5.1 million in 2016 to $24.7 million this year.
Still, more than 172,000 people — greater than the populations of Eau Claire, Janesville and Wausau combined — continue to misuse opioids, state health officials said. Nearly a quarter of them aren’t getting the treatment they need.
In previous articles chronicling the crisis, the Wisconsin State Journal has focused on stories of those who have died.
Today, the State Journal highlights survivors, people who broke free from opioid addiction and remain sober. There’s no official estimate for their ranks, but their stories of recovery may point to solutions and inspire others.
Jewel Adams of Madison was addicted to opioids and lost custody of some of her children. The birth of her first grandchild was a turning point.
Allen Nyberg became addicted to opioids in high school but later became a mentor to others in a sober living house.
Dexter Lane overcame addiction and was able to come out as a transgender man.
Rebecca Foss battled addiction for 25 years but is now a recovery coach for pregnant women addicted to opioids.