Wisconsin News

Behind the scenes: Withdrawal behind bars

Jail officials see increase in drug addicts

Behind The Scenes: Withdrawal behind bars

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - As heroin continues to be a concern in the La Crosse area, jail officials are starting to see an increase in drug addicts behind bars.

It's no surprise that the jail is noticing an increase in addicts behind bars. Oftentimes, when a person is picked up off the streets, they are brought to the La Crosse County Jail.

Jailers will do an initial checkup, but if the person is under the influence, a jail nurse is called in and it becomes a long and taxing process.

"This is our medical department," said Nikki, the health service administrator for the La Crosse County Jail.

For the past five years, the La Crosse County Jail has been home for Nikki.

"My main goal is to make sure everyone is safe and well taken care of when they are here," said Nikki.

But over the years, her job has turned from taking care of those with heart disease and kidney failure to helping people detox.

"I can probably pretty safely say there is always someone here detoxing," said Cap. Steve Anderson, with the La Crosse County Jail.

"A lot of times it's a mixture of meth, heroin, prescription medications, kind of a whole array of things," said Nikki.

As soon as someone going through withdrawals arrives at the jail, Nikki is the first to respond.

"If they come in and the nurse is here, we will pull the nurse down here to evaluate them," said Anderson.

In order to figure out what the person has taken, Nikki tries to build a sense of trust.

"It seems to open the door for them to talk to me and tell me what they've been using," said Nikki.

Once she finds that out, she takes them to the waiting area and makes some phone calls.

"Call the clinics, call their doctors, call the pharmacy to make sure we can get their medication records," said Nikki.

Then it's time to see the doctor, who prescribes a withdrawal protocol to help with the detox.

"If someone is detoxing, the nurse will see them at least four times a day and do vitals on them," said Anderson.

Every detox is different. Some last three days, while others last two weeks, but no matter how long it takes, Nikki will be there.

"I tell them as a nurse, our job, and I say it 100 times over again, is to simply take care of them. I'm not here to judge them, I am here to take care of them," said Nikki.

If the jail nurses and staff are not comfortable treating someone medically, they can order the arresting officer to take the person to a hospital to have a doctor check them out and clear them before they head back to jail.

Thursday on News 8 at 6, we will break down the numbers of just how many drug addicts are treated behind bars and why the jail needs more help to deal with the growing problem.

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