Opioid use on the rise in Eau Claire County

Wisconsin at the center of skyrocketing drug overdoses in the U.S.

Allison Hinrichs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021.”

The estimate shows an almost 30% increase from the deaths during the same period a year prior.

Data from the Eau Claire sheriff’s department shows 58 people overdosed on opioids in Eau Claire County in 2021.

According to WEAU, “that’s more than double the number four years prior.”  

Eau Claire County Sheriff elect candidate Officer Don Henning, comes face to face with the tragedy of the opioid crisis in Eau Claire everyday on the job.

“The scourge of the drugs in our community is just unbelievable,” said Henning.

As a member of the Drug Endangered Children committee and an active participant in the Drug Task Force, Henning sees the opioid crisis in the county as the Sheriff Department’s immediate priority.

“I have been doing this for a long time in this community, over thirty years,” said Henning. “The biggest issue in our community right now are Methamphetamine, Fentanyl and Heroin. Drugs, hard drugs.”

Marshfield Clinic addiction specialist Paula Hensel said that many people incorrectly see the rise in opioid overdoses as a “big city problem,” something Hensel informs WEAU, is not the reality.

“Those big city problems are happening right here in our very own communities,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is partially to blame for the drug rise.

According to CNN, experts say that syringe exchanges and a stronger distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone would help to stabilize the number of overdoses the fastest, but those solutions are politically charged.

Henning linked the recent rise in catalytic convertor thefts to opioid-related motivations. 

“I can tell you that almost every one of those is directly related to someone who is using methamphetamine, fentanyl and heroin,” said Henning.

Hensel told WEAU that the prevalence of fentanyl mixed with opioids and the recent isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest difference between six years ago and today.

“Many things caused a lot of grief and isolation and substance abuse can be an outlet or a choice for a lot of people that is not healthy one,” she said.

She said that the most important thing is for those to seek help if they or a loved one is struggling with addiction.

People can reach Marshfield Clinic’s Family Health Centers at (844) 288-8324.


Hinrichs can be reached at [email protected]