It's no secret that heroin use in Wisconsin has increased over the years, but a new report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirms it's getting worse especially when it comes to overdose deaths.
In reality, the FBI's report isn't surprising to anyone fighting the heroin epidemic in the area. The La Crosse County Heroin Task Force, made up of law enforcement, health officials and educators, put out a similar report six months ago. While the county is seeing more of the drug, it's not seeing an increase in the number of deaths.
Brandon Paletta is somewhat new to the area.
"I have been with La Crosse for a few months, but I came from the cities,” said Paletta.
One of the first things he noticed as a paramedic with Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance was the use of heroin in the area.
"The acuity is a lot more here from what I've seen,” said Paletta.
In just a few short months, he has already used his fair share of Narcan, the drug that counters an opiate overdose.
"The highest I have seen so far is four in a day,” said Paletta.
"Since 2008, we've nearly tripled our use of Narcan,” said Tornstrom.
With an uptick in heroin use, you would suspect an increase in overdose deaths. According to the FBI report, that is exactly what we are seeing across the state. However, in La Crosse County it’s a different story.
"Our deaths have actually gone done since 2010,” said Tornstrom.
In 2010, La Crosse County had 12 heroin overdose deaths. In 2012, the county was able to cut that number down to two. So far this year, there haven’t been any confirmed deaths related to heroin.
"I am very grateful to have that number because the numbers were rising significantly the last several years,” said Keith Lease, the co-chair of the La Crosse County Heroin Task Force.
Paletta credits that impressive number to community involvement and the La Crosse Heroin Task Force.
"I feel like the education level of the community is excellent here,” said Paletta.
"That can point to the awareness of the problem, our work to make sure people are calling 911, our paramedic and first responders using Narcan more often, a lot of pieces play into that,” said Tornstrom.
The FBI report also suggests that the heroin epidemic isn't just a law enforcement issue but a community issue. That is why the La Crosse Heroin Task Force was created in the first place, so it could pool resources for the greater good.
The La Crosse Police Department was one of 49 law enforcement agencies that submitted data for the FBI assessment.