LA CROSSE, Wis. - In the past several years, the La Crosse area has seen more people getting addicted, arrested and even dying from heroin use.
Now community leaders are starting the conversation to get things to change.
In recent years, the trend of heroin users has become more prominent in younger adults, especially in women.
Jane Klekamp, manager of La Crosse County Justice Sanctions, said several reasons could be behind the rise.
"You hear things from the war in Afghanistan, that heroin comes back up that way," said Klekamp. "You hear from people get hooked on pain medication and they get taken off of pain medication, and heroin is much cheaper. There are all kinds of reasons out there as to why heroin is so common right now."
Sixty-five La Crosse community leaders met Wednesday to take the first step to end the growing problem of heroin.
"We think that there should be more conversation about it just to decide if there's something that we can do as a community," said Klekamp.20639230
For decades, the number of heroin related deaths in La Crosse County was virtually non-existent until 2011. Last year, five people died from the drug.
Educators, law enforcement officers and health experts all have different ideas on what to do.
"We do have to effectively treat those who are addicted," said a local doctor.
"We should be looking at addiction as a health issue," said another local leader.
"Most of the people we're talking about here have been locked up before, and if it's all about arrests and locking up, we would have seen a decline by now," said A.J. Myer, assistant professor of sociology, social work and criminal justice at Viterbo University. "So it's about changing those behaviors."
Local leaders said the solution can't just focus on the short-term.
"I think that long-term, we have to focus more on education and trying to help people understand that heroin is a serious issue, and to try to promote proper use of medication and those types of things that can reduce heroin use in the community," said Klekamp.
Many agree it will take an entire community for something to change.
"So we need that collaboration," said Myer. "We need that help from the hospitals, we need help from education, we need help from criminal justice agencies and treatment agencies to get together so that we have that multidimensional approach to the solution."
While a lot of today's focus was on heroin addicts, prevention and education, leaders also said drug dealers are a part of the problem.
Leaders are also hoping to start a coalition to keep this conversation going and to start making some of the ideas a reality.
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