Are efforts to combat drug abuse in La Crosse working? - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Are efforts to combat drug abuse in La Crosse working?

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

Drug abuse is growing rampantly across the county including  in La Crosse. 

In 2013, more Wisconsin residents died of drug overdoses than from car crashes, suicide, breast cancer and colon cancer.

Opioid pain relievers contributed to 45 percent of the 843 drug overdose deaths in 2013, while heroin contributed to 27 percent.

On Monday local lawmakers joined a discussion at the UW-La Crosse, including students and community members, about the public health issues plaguing the community. Drug abuse was one topic addressed. 

By now it's no secret that drug abuse is growing problem in the Coulee Region. Coulee Council on Addiction deals with it every day. 

"Addiction looks like you, it looks like me, it looks like young people in their teens, it looks like an every day person," Cheryl Hancock, executive director of Coulee Council said. While people are more aware of the problem, she said it is still not a solution.

"People still continue to struggle, though. We are nowhere near having solved the issue or the fight of addiction," Hancock said. 

Lawmakers say the are making headway, bringing change to they way communities handle drug abuse. 

"We have done some good changes and investments in some of the prescription drugs and opiate challenges we have here," Senator Jennifer Shilling, (D) La Crosse, said. 

La Crosse County's Heroin and Other Illicit Drugs Task Force started in the summer or 2013 and it's impact is visible. 

"Law enforcement, if they come to a scene and see prescription drugs there that they are reporting to the physician and a statewide database what they are finding as well as allowing for immunity for people who are if they are at a scene and something happens they can come forward and report," Shilling explained some of the progress that comes from legislation. 
Shilling also credit the task force for its work with law enforcement, heath providers and first responders. 

The task force reports in 2012 there were 20 drug related deaths in La Crosse County. Ten of the deaths were heroin related and ten were other prescription and illicit drugs.

In 2015, the task force said only one death was heroin related and five were prescription and other illicit drugs. 

While deaths are down, hospitalizations are not. The task force said in 2014 Gundersen Health System saw over 1,000 drug related hospitalizations. 

Coulee Council argues there is more to be done to combat addiction.

"There are barriers right now to treatment and to people getting into a treatment program, financial and other barriers and I think we as a community need to have that conversation about how can we best make sure that young people's lives are protected." Hancock said now that the community has acknowledged there is a problem, it's time to step up a support those who are struggling with this disease.

Hancock said one of the major barriers for helping those struggling with addiction is getting people into a treatment program. 

"Financial resources for people to get that help is also a hurdle because inpatient treatment is not covered for people under medicaid in the state of Wisconsin," she said, "You go across the river to Minnesota and they have a much more progressive policy about drug and alcoholism treatment."

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