Over the past couple of years, heroin and prescription drug abuse has skyrocketed across the nation. To help combat the issue in our area, community stakeholders created the La Crosse Heroin Task Force about six months ago.
Over the past several months, members of the task force met every two weeks to discuss heroin issues and come up with the best ways to deal with the problem. In such a short time period, they've been able to pinpoint key areas that need more work within the community. Now their time is up and they need to start implementing those new strategies.
"We're very happy with what we were able to accomplish in six months. Six months was a very tight window but it spurred a lot of action and a lot of activity which was needed, it was a necessity to deal with this,” said Keith Lease, co-chairman of the La Crosse Heroin Task Force.
Although the task force's is breaking up, members say their work isn't finished just yet.
"The number of heroin overdose deaths are on the rise, the number of prescription drug overdoses are also on the rise, the number of Naloxone distributions are up over 200 so there is definitely a need in our community to address this,” said Al Bliss, the facilitator for the La Crosse Heroin Task Force.
Last year, La Crosse County surveyed more than 1,200 students in seven local high schools and found that 2.5 percent of students reported using heroin, while 16.1 percent of students reported taking a prescription drug without a doctor's approval.
"Obviously we've done a lot of really good things, but we are nowhere near dealing with the problem as a whole yet,” said Lease.
At their final meeting Thursday afternoon, members of the Heroin Task Force started looking to the future.
"We split into different sub committees that will continue to carry on the work that we've started here with the task force,” said Lease.
"For example, medication drop box. That is something we are hoping by this summer will be accomplished. Some of the longer term, helping those in recovery, expanding the treatment window, those are going to take some time, “said Bliss.
But with time also comes success.
"There's no magic bullet so no matter what we do, there will always be people who struggle and come into these issues, but the more we can get out ahead of the curve the better off we are going to be. It's better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to these things,” said Lease
The short and long-term goals of the La Crosse Heroin Task Force are mirrored after the State Health Plan's objectives to reduce unhealthy drug and alcohol use by changing attitudes and implementing policies, while supporting services for prevention and treatment.
The La Crosse Heroin Task Force will be looking for additional funding from state and federal funds as well as local foundations.