LA CROSSE COUNTY Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – During the last five years, La Crosse County has seen more than 140 drug overdose deaths, with nearly 100 of them involving fentanyl.

The La Crosse County Medical Examiner reported 31 drug overdose deaths in 2021, which followed a record number of 40 in 2020. More than half of the overdoses in both years included fentanyl, leading state lawmakers to increase the penalties for the opioid’s distribution earlier this year.

Governor Evers also signed a bill decriminalizing testing strips, which can help identify whether a substance is laced with fentanyl. La Crosse County recently received thousands of fentanyl testing strips, which will soon be distributed throughout the community.

“Coulee Recovery Center, they have a treatment navigator that will have those test strips available for people who access services there. The Reach Center in La Crosse, they’ll have some strips available, and then at Human Services. If people come in and ask for them, we’ll be able to connect them to people who are able to provide the strips, as well as social workers that may be already working with people in the community. They can give strips to them as well.”

Anneliese Skoda with La Crosse County Human Services says the test strips will include information on local resources for substance use disorders. She hopes the strips both save lives and encourage people to seek help.

“I mean, obviously, no drug use is safe, even if you use the fentanyl test strips, there’s no guarantee that what someone is using is not going to be harmful in some way. Obviously, all the other things that come with substance use usually have some negative effects. Our end goal for people is to be able to help them to get to the best life that they can, which in most cases would be recovery for someone. If they accidentally overdose and die, they won’t be able to get to those resources later.”

The county has 2,500 strips available and may purchase more based on the needs of the community. La Crosse County officials hope the test strips will result in a decrease of fentanyl overdoses. So far this year, the county medical examiner has confirmed 13 overdose deaths, and another 21 are still being investigated.