Drugs took the lives of 29 people last year in La Crosse County while a life-saving drug revived hundreds of others users, according to a new report.
Confirmed cases of two communicable diseases that can be linked to drug use decreased last year, as did the number of hospital admissions for drug abuse, according to a La Crosse County Health Department report that examines the scope of illegal and prescription drug abuse.
Of the 29 who died last year, seven had consumed only prescription painkillers and another seven used both prescription painkillers and an illegal drug. A total of 21 people fatally overdosed in 2016.
“The increase in deaths is discouraging, but with the influx in Fentanyl and other potent drugs, I’m not surprising by that,” said Chris Eberlein, co-chair of the Heroin and Illicit Drug Task Force and an emergency room physician at Gundersen Health System. “Until we get them help, we’re going to see more of these deaths.”
The county’s Overdose Death Review Team, formed earlier this year, will study the overdose cases to identify missed opportunities for intervention and develop strategies to reduce drug deaths.
Another 14 people died in 2017 of a heart attack, suicide, drowning, fall, diabetic shock or blunt-force trauma while under the influence of drugs, according to the report.
Gundersen Heath System’s Hospital in La Crosse admitted 1,972 people last year for drug abuse, overdose and detox last year, down 6 percent from 2016. Eighteen percent of patients were admitted at least twice. Opioid drug-related hospitalizations fell 17 percent, while THC increased 20 percent and cocaine rose 17 percent.
“That’s the first time we’ve seen a decrease in (opioid drug-related hospitalizations) since 2013,” said county health educator Al Bliss. “Hopefully what that means is people aren’t misusing the drugs and prescribers could be prescribing fewer opioids.”
Hepatitis C cases dropped to 64 last year from 90 in 2016 and Hepatitis B cases decreased by half to 15. The diseases can be contracted through intravenous drug use, sexual contact or accidental exposure.
Users in La Crosse and surrounding counties picked up 335,219 syringes through the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin Lifepoint Needle Exchange program that aims to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis B and C by equipping users with clean needles. That’s up from 68,765 needles in 2012.
The resource center reported training 593 people in the region last year how to administer Narcan, the opiate overdose antidote. It trained 183 people in 2016. Of the 593 trainings, 328 reported using Narcan on 141 people.
Local law enforcement, first responders and paramedics administered 247 Narcan doses in 2017, the first year that many police departments and first responders began carrying the antidote.
“It’s encouraging that Narcan is being utilized. Otherwise, we would see many more overdose deaths,” Eberlein said.
Authorities between May 2017 and January collected 746 pounds of needles between from two sharps containers on La Crosse’s downtown and on the North Side.
The county’s Heroin and Other Illicit Drug Task Force plans to use the data to focus strategies designed to reduce drug use and deaths, Bliss said.
Members plan to continue to encourage the use of sharps containers and Narcan to reduce fatal overdoses. They also plan continued prevention work with youth. Fewer county high school students surveyed last year reported using heroin and prescription drugs, which could signal prevention efforts are working, Eberlein said.
“Prevention is the way to go to with this whole thing,” he said. “That’s how to get out this.”