LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Efforts continue in La Crosse County and across Wisconsin to turn around a rapid increase in drug overdose deaths.
First News at Nines Alex Loroff describes the discussions surrounding Overdose Awareness Day.
As a whole, the United States reported a record number of more than 93,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020.
La Crosse County also set a new bar for overdose deaths, the peak of a trend that’s stretched over the last several years.
“Three years ago, we were experiencing a decline in the drug overdoses, and now we’ve seen that rise, especially in 2020 when COVID started,” Alliance to Heal Coordinator Al Bliss said.
40 people died of drug overdoses in La Crosse County last year, and so far 23 have been recorded this year.
Bliss says even though the county saw high numbers earlier in the year, the pace has started to fall off.
“Some good news is that at least this month of August we have not had any overdoses yet,” Bliss said. “So it’s possible that things are slowing down.”
Bliss believes the decline could have a number of factors, including the Alliance to Heal’s efforts of informing the public about overdoses and providing life-saving medicine.
“People are more aware of signs and symptoms, and the Narcan that’s going out really helps, I think,” Bliss explained. “It brings some peace of mind and helps buy some time so somebody can get into treatment or recovery services.”
Tuesday’s Overdose Awareness Day in La Crosse continued the community discussion on limiting overdoses, and also provided training on Narcan use.
State Rep. Jill Billings was among the speakers at the event, detailing the work being done in the State Legislature to turn overdose numbers around.
“Personally, I have been working on a bill that was requested by local law enforcement that would increase the penalty for distributing or manufacturing fentanyl,” Billings said.
Billings is working on an additional bill to legalize the use of fentanyl strips in Wisconsin to test whether or not the opioid is present in a substance.
Gov. Evers also declared August 31st as Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin, urging residents to reflect on the impact overdoses have had across the state.
“There are families who have lost friends, they’ve lost family members, co-workers have been lost, because of drug overdose” Billings said. “This puts a human face to it and it gives us a time to grieve with those people.”
Anyone looking for substance use treatment and recovery services is encouraged to use the Wisconsin Addition Recovery Helpline.
In La Crosse, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.
The alliance to heal has a list of resources available in the Coulee Region. You can find a link to that on our website.