MILWAUKEE — Since Saturday, there were 17 fatal opioid overdoses reported in Milwaukee County. 

Four of the people who died from the overdoses were homeless, according to Fire Chief Aaron Lipski. He said the average age of those who died was 50.

Lipski said he believes a bad batch of opioids — which could be laced with fentanyl — is circulating the area.

Lipski said at least 10 people who died resided in — or had addresses in — the City of Milwaukee. At least one person lived in South Milwaukee and at least one other lived in West Allis.

With the record-breaking death toll, the city said this is a public health crisis. 

Lipski said the first step to ending the opioid epidemic is de-stigmatizing overdoses so people can get help.

“At its core, this is a mental health disease,” said Lipski. “It’s no [different] if you have heart trouble or diabetes, blood pressure. It’s no different than that. We have to stop dumping on people because they’re stuck in this cycle.”

City leaders and substance abuse advocates joined Lipski on tackling the issue. Amanda De Leon, the community programs and integration manager for Community Medical Services, said to combat overdose deaths, more treatment centers need to be opened, more fentanyl testing strips need to be made available and Narcan needs to be easily accessible.

“We refuse to [accept] losing another life to a preventable and treatable disease of substance use,” said De Leon. “Please, I beg you, please test all of your substances. Give your family the support. Your family and friends support access to treatment. It’s what we all deserve.” 

Since 2021, Lipski said thousands of Hope Kits have been distributed, which include Narcan and fentanyl testing strips. Hope Kits are available at any Milwaukee fire or police station; they are also avilable at any fire truck you see in the community.

Soon, Narcan will be available over the counter in pharmacies. The FDA approved it last week.