La Crosse County overdose deaths are rising, fentanyl a significant contributor

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WEAU) – The number of deaths from drug overdose continues to rise in La Crosse County from a record high last year.

The La Crosse County medical examiner recorded 40 overdose deaths in 2020, 27 of which were related to fentanyl.

Dr. Chris Eberlein of Gundersen Health System says that out of 11 confirmed overdose deaths this year, fentanyl was involved in 10.

“We have seen an increase in the amount of fentanyl in our overdoses over the past five years,” added Eberlein. “It’s increasing every year and this year we’re at 90%.”

Eberlein also says there are nine more suspected overdose deaths in 2021, bringing the total to 20.

However, it is currently unknown whether fentanyl played a role in the nine additional overdoses.

Eberlein says fentanyl is the cause of many of the overdose deaths in the county because, once mixed with other drugs, users can unwittingly ingest a lethal dose.

“When people are consuming on the street they don’t know what amount they are actually getting, so it’s very easy to overdose two to four times the safe amount when dealing with something that is so focused is. ”Eberlein explained.

Efforts across the community continue to reduce opioid use, the exact reason the Alliance to Heal was founded three years ago.

The organization’s original goal was to raise awareness about opioid addiction treatment, but its scope is expanding to meet the needs of the community.

“We have again changed our mission to include more than just opioids,” said Al Bliss, Alliance to Heal coordinator. “Sober living and access to treatment are likely the top two priorities in our community.”

Another priority, according to Bliss, is to focus on underserved members of the population.

“Including the one in Houska [Park]including those in the Salvation Army, those receiving Medicaid-assisted treatment and trying to reach other areas of people who are at high risk, ”said Bliss.

Part of that aid includes distributing a record amount of Narcan to law enforcement and first responders, which Eberlein says has been used to save dozens, if not hundreds, of lives this year.

Bliss believes the best way to limit overdose deaths is to keep reaching out to the community and connecting them to effective treatment options.

A list of resources can be found on the Alliance to Heal website.

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