OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – From 2021 to 2022, the Lake Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group – Drug Unit (LWAM) saw a drastic spike in fentanyl seizures.

According to a release from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the agency saw a 4,400.00% increase in fentanyl seized during 2022 compared to 2021 throughout LWAM’s area of responsibility. That area includes Outagamie, Winnebago, Fond du Lac, and Calumet County.

Fentanyl seizures increased by 62 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 and 227 percent from 2021 to 2020. Already in 2023, LWAM officials said they have seized 295 percent more fentanyl than they did in the entire year of 2021.

On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Josh Kaul held a news conference with law enforcement officials and district attorneys from around the Fox Valley.

“Because of the presence of fentanyl, illegal drug use which was already dangerous, is even more dangerous,” said Kaul.

While dangerous drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin continue to threaten communities, fentanyl has rapidly become the number one drug threat to the Fox Valley area.

Fentanyl is a powerfully addictive opioid, around 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Even in small doses, fentanyl can be deadly, as only 2mg, the size of a few grains of sand, can kill you.

Drug dealers mix it in with other drugs, so often users don’t even realize they are ingesting a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is a hazardous drug that has caused many overdose deaths,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul. “Thank you to the team at LWAM that’s working to combat this dangerous drug and reduce the harm caused by illegal drugs in the Fox Valley.”

“It’s incredibly addictive so drug dealers use it as part of mixtures that they are selling illegally to keep people addicted, and it’s relatively inexpensive for how potent it is,” Kaul continued.

Fentanyl can come in many forms, including powdered, mixed with other drugs, or counterfeit prescription pills of varying shapes, sizes, and colors. LWAM reports that approximately six out of 10 of those counterfeit prescription pills have a lethal dose of fentanyl.

“It is incumbent upon the Lake Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group – Drug Unit to inform the public about this highly addictive and dangerous drug in hopes that raising awareness can assist in preventing harm to the community at large,” said LWAM Special Agent in Charge Jeremiah Winscher. “It is LWAM’s mission to investigate individuals, groups, and organizations that illegally traffic this deadly drug into our communities and hold those offenders who chose to distribute fentanyl responsible for their criminal actions.”

According to the DOJ, during the 2022 calendar year, LWAM seized approximately 6,300 grams of illicit controlled substances containing fentanyl. This amount of fentanyl marks about 4,400% more fentanyl taken than that of the 2021 calendar year.

While this figure may be primarily attributed to the December 2022 seizure of approximately 12 pounds of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl, the largest individual fentanyl seizure in LWAM history, even without that seizure, LWAM seized about 560% more fentanyl in 2022 than in 2021. 

“Each pill is potentially a life saved, so there’s value in every single one of those seizures,” said Winscher.

Attendees at the news conference listed a variety of ways they are trying to fight back against fentanyl. Attorney General Kaul said in the state’s upcoming budget he has asked for 19 additional positions in their division of criminal investigations which will help them track down drug dealers and manufacturers and hold them accountable.

State and local leaders have also expanded the availability of Narcan and fentanyl testing strips. Prosecutors say they are imposing tougher penalties on those caught dealing fentanyl.

In Winnebago County when somebody gets arrested for drug use, prosecutors said they try to get the person connected to resources that can help them with their addiction shortly after they enter into the criminal justice system.

“Our vision is to make Oshkosh a place that drug dealers don’t want to come to, a place that they fear arrest and incarceration,” said Oshkosh police chief Dean Smith. “This is serious, deadly drug adulteration that is occurring and I would say to folks who are using illicit drugs to get some help.”

Chief Smith said that there were 13 overdose deaths in Oshkosh last year.