Those fighting the illegal and prescription drug epidemic in La Crosse County joined together Wednesday at the Northside Community Police Station to observe Overdose Awareness Day, recognized globally on Thursday.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat and Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen signed a proclamation calling on the public to increase its awareness of fatal drug overdoses and to recognize drug abuse as a public health crisis. Public recognition also sends a message to users and those in recovery that their lives are valued, Chilsen said.
“This is such an important problem,” he said. “We can’t attack it in a single way.”
Drugs killed 25 people in La Crosse County in 2016 and 16 so far this year, according to the medical examiner’s office. Kabat recognized the collaboration done to combat fatal overdoses – including prescription drug drop boxes, outdoor needle collection units and public forums.
“We still have work to do because the numbers don’t show zero,” he said.
Hundreds are saved by Narcan, a drug that temporarily reverses an opiate overdose, administered by Tri-State Ambulance paramedics, La Crosse firefighters and, most recently, Onalaska police. Narcan also is available without a prescription at all Gundersen and Degen Berglund pharmacies in La Crosse, Onalaska, Holmen and Prairie du Chien.
The La Crosse location of the AIDS Resource Center in Wisconsin trained 333 people to use Narcan this year, up from 183 last year. The non-profit provides the life-saving drug at no cost to those who complete training. Those trained reported 132 uses this year, prevention supervisor Laura Runchey said.
“That’s 132 people who didn’t die,” she said.
Still, drugs kill an average of 120 people daily nationwide, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“And behind all of those statistics, there is a person,” Coulee Council on Addictions Executive Director Cheryl Hancock said.
The community must work together to provide a stronger response to those seeking sobriety, she said.
“They deserve our respect and compassion,” Hancock said.