The killer of two Milwaukee residents was on the kitchen counter: white powder, spoon, needles. The deaths of a man and woman on Feb. 9 appeared at first to be part of the surging body count of heroin fatalities in Milwaukee County, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Milwaukee County Medical Examiner Brian Peterson found that the cause wasn’t heroin but high doses of a more powerful drug, fentanyl. Four people died from fentanyl in the first five weeks of 2015, medical examiner records show. In all of 2014 there were only four fentanyl-only death cases in Milwaukee County and a total of 19 such deaths since 2009.
Fentanyl, which is used to put patients under for surgery and to alleviate severe pain, is 50 times more powerful than street heroin and 100 times stronger than prescription morphine. “I don’t think they really realize the potency of the fentanyl,” said Tina Virgil, director of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. “I don’t think people conceptually see it equally as powerful, or stronger than, heroin.” Before this year, fentanyl deaths in Milwaukee were most often from people abusing fentanyl patches, lozenges and “lollipops,” delivery systems meant to slow the dose of the drug, a review of autopsies shows. Circumstances around the most recent cases suggest fentanyl may be getting mistaken for heroin by those using it. The result is sudden death.