LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – La Crosse County is on pace to match a record year for drug overdose deaths.

First News at Nine’s Alex Loroff shares what medical professionals believe is causing the upward trend, and the steps they’re taking to help.

Drug overdose deaths are continuing to climb in La Crosse County following a record number last year.

The La Crosse County Medical Examiner recorded 40 overdose deaths in 2020, with 27 of them involving fentanyl.

Dr. Chris Eberlein with Gundersen Health System says out of 11 confirmed overdose deaths so far this year, fentanyl has been part of 10 of them.

“We have seen an increase in the percentage of fentanyl in our overdoses over the course of the last five years,” Eberlein added. “It goes up every year and this year we’re at 90%.”

Eberlein also says there are an additional nine suspected overdose deaths in 2021, bringing the overall total up to 20.

However, it’s unknown at this time whether or not fentanyl played a role in the nine additional overdoses.

Eberlein says fentanyl is driving many of the overdose deaths the county is seeing because once it’s mixed with other drugs, users can unknowingly take a fatal dose.

“When people are using on the street they don’t know what they’re actually getting for amount, and so it’s very easy to overdose by two to fourfold the safe amount given when you’re dealing with something that is that concentrated,” Eberlein explained.

Efforts are continuing across the community to limit the usage of opioids, the exact reason the Alliance to Heal was formed three years ago.

The organization’s initial goal was to raise awareness about treatment for opioid addictions, but its scope is expanding to meet the needs of the community.

“We’ve changed our mission again to address more than just opioids,” Alliance to Heal Coordinator Al Bliss said. “Sober living and access to treatment are probably the two top priorities in our community.”

Bliss says another priority is focusing on underserved members of the population.

“Including those at Houska [Park], including those at Salvation Army, individuals who are getting Medicaid-assisted treatment and trying to reach other pockets of people that are greatly at risk,” Bliss detailed.

Part of that assistance includes distributing a record amount of Narcan to law enforcement and first responders, which Eberlein says has been used to save dozens, if not hundreds of lives this year.

Bliss believes the best way to limit overdose deaths is to continue reaching out to the community and connecting them with effective treatment options.

In La Crosse, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.

A list of agencies helping with substance abuse can be found on the alliance to Heal’s website.

You can also call great rivers 2-1-1 for an additional list of resources as well as an addiction recovery hotline.