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Treatment for the initial overdoses of less than one-third of the drug patients at Gundersen Health System last year cost nearly $6.2 million, according to a new Gundersen study.

That total accounted for only the initial visits of 419 drug patients selected from 1,535 total overdose cases at either Gundersen’s emergency services or the La Crosse hospital itself, according to the study, released Wednesday.

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Dr. Chris Eberlein, Gundersen ER doc

Eberlein

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Brenda Rooney

Rooney

The breakdown of an average of $14,771 a patient does not include costs for additional treatments or hospitalization, according to study co-authors Dr. Chris Eberlein and Brenda Rooney.

Drug overdoses occur among all ages and income levels and are not limited to La Crosse County or certain communities and neighborhoods, said Eberlein, an emergency physician at Gundersen.

“By utilizing our medical record to overlap overdose location with census data, we can better understand our area’s opiate epidemic and focus our prevention and treatment efforts,” Eberlein said.

“This research has us thinking more closely about how we solve problems in our community,” said Rooney, medical director of Gundersen’s Community and Preventive Care Services. “Having more information about these patients will help us provide better care and support upstream.”

The study’s findings include:

More than 50 percent of patients studied (219) were between the ages of 25 and 49, followed by 12- to 24-year-olds (120).

Most patients were white (388) and most were women (257).

Sedatives accounted for the most overdoses, with 166 cases, followed by 84 overdoses with benzodiazepines, which include drugs such as Xanax and Valium.

Nearly 50 overdoses were from heroin, and 54 were from opiates and related narcotics.

The majority of patients — 239 — had private insurance, compared with those with 155 who had Medicaid or Medicare and 25 who had no insurance.

Contrary to basic assumptions going into the study, Rooney said, “Neighborhoods with the lowest median incomes, higher unemployment, higher rental costs and racial diversity but higher rates of college education had the highest risks of overdoses.”

On the other hand, most public health problems usually involve neighborhoods with lower education and lower income, she said.

“That wasn’t the case when looking at overdoses, when you throw in intentional overdoses, including attempted suicides,” Rooney said.

Determining where people live and their backgrounds — and assessing their risks also based on public health factors such as obesity, smoking, pre-term labor and others — will help in developing solution strategies, she said.

“We can focus more on root causes and not just Band-Aids,” she said.

The solutions must be many, including reducing the use of opiates, prescribing pain medications differently and getting drugs off of the streets and out of medicine cabinets to head off the problem upstream, Rooney said.

Several initiatives already in place, including needle and medicine drop-offs, neighborhood policing and the work in process to create the HUB, a pilot project to connect people who need assistance with social services in La Crosse, will aid the work, she said.

That study, which homed in on the scope of illegal and prescription drug abuse, also confirmed that Hepatitis C cases doubled last year, and almost 3,000 people were hospitalized at Gundersen for drug use and abuse.

Eberlein, who also co-chairs the Heroin and Illicit Drug Task Force, described those findings as “pretty overwhelming.

“I think the problem will initially get worse,” Eberlein said. “It’s going to take some time to take care of and treat the population that is addicted.”

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Reporter

Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(12) comments

Kindnessmatters

Everyone just keeps trying to put a big Bandaid on our health care situation. Having low cost coverage for everyone, no exemption for pre existing conditions, lower drug costs and on and on are not tackling the issues that cause the problems of our system today.They solutions are just a finger on the hole in the dam. We need to address nuisance malpractice lawsuits, unreasonable amounts being awarded to people who are suing, unreasonable costs for malpractice insurance because of our societies wanting to always blame someone else, pharmaceutical companies power and lobbying abilities causing high drug prices and CEO's of all these large medical technological and pharmaceutical companies making ridiculous salaries and our penchant for prepackaged unhealthy food and snacks. And most of all, people need to stop eating super sized Big Mac meals several times a week and then going home and watching TV or playing video games instead of going out and being active. If more people in our country took care of themselves, they would find they wouldn't have such a need for and wouldn't have topay for high priced medical costs. But it's much easier to complain about it and then just want a pill to fix everything once you're body has gone to hell.

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kingman10

you should team up with real life justice idiot above. You two make a great pair. Who knows you might start a new movement, or should a I say revive an old one from the mid twentieth century, in Germany and Italy.

Buggs Raplin

Just another reason for a single-payer health care system, where everyone is covered. Take the parasitic health insurance companies out of the ballgame.

real life Justice

High cost of Insurance. They need to be put in jail and given a sentence of hard labor for 6 months. Maybe this would change there attitude towards continue drug use. Make sure they pay there bill take everything they have to cover it. time for the druggy to face reality and pay up. And use all the money the police confiscate from drug raids to pay for there hospital care. And get rid of NarCan you want to get High then Die. This is not for the taxpayers need to be paying for.

kingman10

wow a real hard a$$ fascists in our midst. Yea let them die, how dare they make a wrong choice in this life. Too bad not everyone can be like real life justice person and never make a mistake. How about building great big ovens so we can get rid of the bodies quickly too. Why hasn't someone thought of this before? Oh wait...I think someone did, wonder how that turned out.

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Clarification

Sounds great...until it happens to your kid. Do you smoke? Got lung cancer yet? Too bad, so sad. Hope you don't cough up too much blood as you die as it stains the sheets. That's your kind of thinking and it could happen to you. Or maybe your liver gives out from too much drinking. Same difference.

LaCrosseTaxPayer

And people wonder why insurance is soooooo expensive, with heath care providers gouging the people for service!! The clinics and hospitals have been stealing from the insurance companies and people for years, anything from charging $20.00 for a aspirin to $800.00 for a room or $300.00 to see a doctor for 5 minutes and everything else they bill you!!! Health care is the only thing that is even close to the corruption of the government!!

Cassandra

The reporting is woefully incomplete. The major question should be WHY the cost is so high. Seriously? Nearly $15,000 for an initial treatment and the reporter doesn't bother to tally up where those costs come from?

LaCrosseCampers

Medical costs are spiraling out of control... nothing to see here... move on... re-focus on INSURANCE. Those guys are evil!! The whole problem is INSURANCE. Forget about the ridiculous cost of medical care... move along... don't report that.

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union conservative

Oh no....we have to help these people. Cause the people footing much of the bill have it so easy.

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