A federal assessment said in the last six years heroin use in Wisconsin has steadily increased, and local officials said that's true in La Crosse.
The analysis said the average heroin user is a white male between the ages of 21 and 35. Users often start off abusing opiate-based prescription pills and then move on to heroin as a cheaper alternative, said the study. The report said heroin found in Wisconsin is coming from Mexico or South America and being trafficked to Chicago and Minneapolis.
The study said heroin is easier to hide than other illegal drugs because small amounts are still very potent. Tom Johnson works for the Metropolitan Enforcement Group or MEG Unit, he said "A person carrying just a tiny little zip lock bag of one gram is a dealer to possibly 10 other people."
Local officials said the findings in the study confirm things they already knew and things they are already working on. "From a law enforcement perspective we have realized that we need to reach out to other assets in the community. We don't have a monopoly on the solution. We have to work together, it takes a collaborative effort," said Johnson.
The La Crosse Police Department said so far this year they have made 62 heroin arrests, last year they made 96. But Johnson said we can't just rely on law enforcement to arrest and prosecute drug dealers and users. "We can arrest people all day long. They're just going to keep coming until we change the way of life or the desires of people to reduce the need for that drug. That's when its going to have a positive impact."
Mike Desmond is the Co-Chair of the Heroin Task Force, he said we need to stick resources into prevention and education. Both Johnson and Desmond said a community collaboration between law enforcement, the local hospitals, and schools is the key to preventing drug abuse.
The heroin assessment also said that the use of Narcan, to prevent deaths from overdoses, may actually be increasing heroin use because users may be less concerned about dying. Tri-State Ambulance said the total doses of Narcan they administer has more than doubled in the last five years.
But so far this year, there have been no overdose deaths in La Crosse County, according to Tim Candahl, La Crosse County Medical Examiner.
Usually each year there are around 10 to 12 such deaths.
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