Health Column: The Burden of Opioids in La Crosse

By Sue Danielson, health services

Wisconsin and the rest of the U.S is experiencing increased rates of illegal drug use. Opiates, which include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl are common medications used to treat pain, but unfortunately, they can become very addictive. Another type of opiate is heroin, which is an illegal substance and has similar effects as prescription opiates. It can be snorted, injected, or smoked. 

According to the La Crosse County Burden of Illicit Drug Use report in 2017, there were 25 La Crosse County drug-related deaths in 2016. Of this number, all had prescription drugs in their system, 28 percent had heroin, 20 percent had Fentanyl, and 60 percent opioids of some kind. This has been the highest number of drug-related deaths in the county to date. Gundersen Health System reported 224 hospitalizations related to opioids in 2016.

Narcan (Naloxone) is a drug used to reverse an overdose related to opiates. In 2016, Tri-State Ambulance used 267 doses of Narcan on 186 patients in the La Crosse area. Multiple patients received more than one dose of the medication. The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin is working to reduce the harmful effects of drug use by offering a needle exchange program. They offer the syringes, training, and Narcan to people who use drugs. One of the goals of this program is to decrease the risk of infectious disease transmission including HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis B and C.

Residents of La Crosse County are reminded to remove unused and expired medications from their homes. Medication drop boxes are located at the police departments, Gundersen Health System and Walgreens on West Avenue. Keep your medications out of the hands of children. 

Health services will hold a Lunch and Learn Friday, Oct. 27 on opiates in La Crosse. The program will run from 12:10–1:10 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center Hospitality Suite. Registration is required. Contact Sue Danielson at 608-796-3806 or to save your spot.

Information courtesy of the Burden of Illicit Drug Use, La Crosse County, April 2017.