Skyrocketing drug overdoses prompt dire warning

The Marathon County Sheriff’s Office issued a public health warning over a highly potent strain of heroin responsible for at least one death and eight other heroin overdoses in the past 10 days.

The Sheriff’s Department will reassign a patrol officer to the county’s drug unit to help cope with the surge, says Chief Deputy Chad Billeb. The most recent flood of overdoses happened in Rothschild, Rib Mountain, Wausau, Kronenwetter, Ringle and Knowlton. In all but one case, the anti-opiate overdose medication naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, was used to successfully revive the victim.

In each case, victims were known heroin users who reported taking their usual dose of the drug, but overdosed anyway, Billeb says, raising the possibility that the heroin could be laced with Fentayl or another drug. Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, making the combination especially deadly, Billeb says.

“We need to track down the source of this drug and eliminate it,” Billeb says. “Until we do, we fully expect to deal with many more overdoses and possibly more deaths.”

County-wide, law enforcement has handled more than 39 heroin overdose reports since Jan. 1. That’s already more than double last year’s overall total, says Lt. Randy Albert, who spearheads the special investigations unit. “And there are probably many more out there that haven’t been reported… This is a serious public health issue.”