The federal government isn’t responding to the drug epidemic as it has to other public safety crises, La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer told stakeholders Tuesday.
“And it’s something that affects every single person in this country right now,” he said.
State Sen. Jennifer Shilling and state Rep. Steve Doyle met Tuesday in La Crosse with law enforcement, elected and health officials, addiction specialists and others during a series of round-table meetings designed to develop solutions to rising methamphetamine, heroin and opiate use.
Stakeholders spent much of the discussion examining hurdles, from funding obstacles and a lack of resources to a lack of sober housing.
“For many years, people looked to law enforcement to solve this problem, and we’re finally realizing this is not a law enforcement problem,” Tischer said. “It’s a societal problem.”
Drug dealers deserve consequences and addicts need treatment, although the court-ordered method will fail when they don’t have the drive to get sober, he said.
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“People who are addicts don’t care if they get arrested,” Tischer said. “We really need more funding for counseling services and treatment facilities that people want to attend.”
About 50 percent of La Crosse County Jail inmates are on withdrawal protocols and many suffer from untreated mental illness, La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson said. Before they leave, inmates learn where they can go for help, are warned that their abstinence means a decreased tolerance, and told how to administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts an opiate overdose.
The amount of Narcan used in La Crosse is “unbelievable,” Tischer said. Some users have been revived multiple times and, even that close to death, “they don’t get it,” he said.
“Addiction is a brain disease, which is why they don’t get it,” said David Onsrud, family practitioner and medical director for the addiction programs at Mayo Clinic Health System.
There are just three physicians at La Crosse’s medical institutions authorized to prescribe Suboxone, a drug used to treat opiate addiction, Onsrud said.