Overdose Fatality Review: A Closer Look
On May 5, 2022, we released the findings from the Dane County Overdose Fatality Review (OFR). The report reflects a community-wide effort to gather data, review deaths, make recommendations, and take action toward change.
In addition to reviewing data on overdose deaths from 2018-2020, our team interviewed families who lost loved ones to drug overdose in 2020. These interviews provided invaluable, personal insight to help us identify challenges facing people who use drugs. Let’s go over some of the key takeaways from the report:
138 people lost their lives to drug overdose in 2020, a 39% increase since 2016.
In 2020, overdose deaths happened at 4.2xthe rate of motor vehicle deaths and 3.4x the rate of firearm deaths. The highest rates of drug overdose deaths are among people 25-54 years old and the majority are men. Opioids continue to drive drug overdose deaths, with nearly 9 in 10 deaths involving an opioid.
Deaths from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have increased rapidly.
Dane County has seen a large increase in opioid-related overdose deaths over the past 20 years. In the past 5 years, deaths that involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl have been rapidly increasing.
Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid, and people often don’t know that the drug they’re taking has been mixed with fentanyl, leading to overdoses. That’s a big reason why we provide free fentanyl test strips at our offices.
In 2018-2020, Black people were three times as likely to experience an overdose-related death than white people.
Racial inequities in overdose deaths have been increasing in Dane County. In 2018-2020, Black people were three times as likely to experience an overdose-related death than white people. We know that drug misuse is connected to social determinants of health, like trauma, poverty, and mental health. Social determinants of health often have roots in long-standing systemic racism and bias that leads to communities having unequal access to resources.
Each of these numbers represents real people who lived full, complicated lives, and who were loved. Below are words family members used to describe the loved ones they lost in 2020.
“It’s just so hard. It’s hard to find the help. And then to get connected and [to be told], ‘We’re already swamped, we can’t fit another person in.’”
“He called the day after [our Dad] passed and I just broke down and said, ‘Dad died.’ I’ve never heard somebody howl so bad before. He always thought our father didn’t love him.
He found out about his dad dying and his favorite uncle [dying] on the same day and then he just kinda spiraled downhill from there.”
“I didn’t know what to do or where to go for help.”
“He had dreams. And he was loved by so many people. I just want people to know, this was a loved one. No matter how many times he was arrested, no matter how many times you may have passed him on the street when he was in clothes that he slept in for two weeks, he was someone’s child, someone’s uncle, someone’s brother.
We never give up on these people. The families never give up.
And I just hope that no matter how you think of people, just have some compassion. It was hell, but I would not have it any other way because I never would have given up on him. Ever.”
Overdose deaths are 100% preventable. Public Health and Overdose Fatality Review partners are working together to implement recommendations identified in the report to prevent future deaths.
The Dane County OFR Case Review Team reviewed all of this information and collectively developed recommendations to improve some of the challenges facing people who use drugs. Those recommendations include decriminalizing addiction, supporting families, increasing access to treatment, and expanding harm reduction services.
Learn more about how we’re working to prevent overdoses and reduce drug harm.
Watch this video with a short recap of the report: