Sign In
    Wisconsin Lawyer
    December 01, 2017


    We want to hear from you! Post a comment, find us on social media, or send us your thoughts.

    From Medicine Cabinet to Morgue

    heroin needle and spoon

    The opioid epidemic is in every county in our state, and it’s getting worse. From 2005 to 2016, opioid-related hospital encounters alone increased more than 270 percent in Wisconsin, and just last year 827 people died of an opioid overdose.

    This problem is not specific to one region of the state. In Milwaukee County, there were 294 confirmed opiate deaths in all of 2016. And this year, Milwaukee County has already confirmed 259 opiate deaths – a death toll that grew by 27 between initial drafting and publishing of this letter.

    The only good news about this epidemic: these deaths are preventable if each of us can get control of what’s in our medicine cabinet.

    Four out of five heroin addicts report that prescription narcotic painkillers were the first opiate they abused, and we know that 70 percent of people abusing prescription painkillers first got them from a family member or a friend. Sometimes through sharing, sometimes through stealing.

    That’s the dose of reality: The bodies in the morgue frequently started on this deadly path by using the leftover pills found in medicine cabinets.

    The opioid epidemic began in our medicine cabinets, and that’s where we have to go to end it. October 28 was “Drug Take Back Day,” a day to dispose of any unused or unwanted medications at a drug disposal location. By safely disposing of unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs, we can make sure these medications don’t fall into the hands of someone struggling with addiction.

    There are safe and legitimate ways to use prescription painkillers, and when you are prescribed these powerful medications by a medical professional, follow these simple rules:

    • Take prescription painkillers only as prescribed to you and don’t share them.

    • Keep the pills locked up, in a safe for example, to prevent abuse and diversion.

    • When you are done with the pills, get rid of any leftovers. Dispose of medications at one of more than 340 safe, free, convenient, and anonymous drug disposal boxes across the state.

    Law enforcement, medical examiners, social services, doctors, pharmacists, the legislature, Gov. Walker, and the Wisconsin Department of Justice are working very hard to stem this epidemic by increasing access to addiction treatment, changing prescribing guidelines, and dismantling heroin and fentanyl drug trafficking networks.

    But government cannot fight this epidemic alone.

    We need every household in this state to lock up medications and safely dispose of any unused or unwanted medications.

    Dispose of medications safely, don’t flush them! “Drug Take Back Day” may have passed, but many drug disposal boxes are available year-round. Find a drug disposal box near you at

    Dr. Brian Peterson
    Milwaukee County Medical Examiner

    Attorney General Brad Schimel
    Wisconsin Department of Justice

    We Want to Hear from You! Submit a Letter to the Editor

    Wisconsin Lawyer provides a forum for members to express ideas, concerns, and opinions on law-related subjects. Send comments to (include “Letters” in the subject line), or mail to Wisconsin Lawyer “Letters,” P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158. Limit to 500 words. Writing guidelines available.

    Connect With Us Online. Post comments to articles online, and find us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

    Supreme Court Efforts on Opioid Crisis

    Patience Roggensack

    In “State of the Judiciary: Chief Justice Highlights Court Efforts on Opioid Crisis” (WisBar News, Nov. 17, 2017), Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack noted that although heroin is a major problem, prescription opioids, such as oxycontin and hydrocodone, often begin the cycle of addiction and are often prescribed to manage pain at home without the supervision of health care professionals.

    In her annual State of the Judiciary Address in November, Roggensack referenced an article by Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh, “In the Crosshairs: Heroin’s Impact on Wisconsin’s Criminal Justice System” (Wisconsin Lawyer, Jan. 2016), and highlighted court efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that plagues Wisconsin and the country.

    A reader posted a comment.

    Reader: Thank you, madam Chief Justice and the Court, for caring about this issue and taking such tangible and effective action to address it.

    Bushnell Nielsen
    Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Waukesha

Join the conversation! Log in to comment.

News & Pubs Search

Format: MM/DD/YYYY