Wisconsin News

E.R. doctor notices uptick in heroin overdoses

Dr. Eberlein says it's a national trend happening in our backyard

E.R. doctor notices uptick in heroin overdoses

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Although there are many efforts across the state and even the nation to try to stop the use of heroin, numbers show there is still an uptick in our area.

The state Department of Health Services said the number of deaths with heroin as a contributing factor more than quintupled between 2003 and 2011, from 25 to 134.

According to La Crosse County Human Services, over the past three years almost every county in Wisconsin has seen an increase in heroin use.       

One local emergency room doctor says it's a national trend that is happening right here in our backyard.

Being an ER doctor at Gundersen Health Systems for almost a decade now, you would think Dr. Chris Eberlein had seen it all. However, in recent years he's been witness to countless heroin overdoses in the community.

"We had one of the patients actually brought in from the parking ramp, he actually overdosed in a car in the parking ramp," said Eberlein.

It's a sight he sees all too often.

"Oftentimes their friends bring them in and just drop them at the door, that's kind of the classic scenario," said Eberlein.

And it's a sight he never gets used to.

"There's always frustration because the whole system has failed to have someone get to that point, and sadness for them and the family," said Eberlein.

But that hasn't always been the case.

"Prior to that I hadn't seen heroin much at all in the community, then a couple years ago we started to see overdoses come in through the ER and they have stayed pretty much the same," said Eberlein.

"The increase in heroin use, especially among 12 to 17-year-olds, has increased over 300 percent since 1995," said Al Bliss, a health educator with La Crosse County Health Services.

Eberlein said there seems to be a certain switch taking place.

"Initially it was just prescription opiates that we saw abused and that has switched over to heroin," said Eberlein.

"Part of the reason is prescription drugs and over-the-counter opiates are harder and more difficult to get, and because of that they are turning towards something that is available and cheaper," said Bliss.

Eberlein said this is a community problem that needs everyone's attention.

"It's worrisome from the standpoint that this is killing a lot of young adults. This is something as a community we really need to address because it's not going to go away without us working together to fix the problem," said Eberlein.

Mayo Clinic Health Services also said they are also seeing an increase in ER visits from people who have overdosed on heroin.

To help address the heroin problem in our community, La Crosse County officials created the Heroin Task Force. Click here for more about their efforts to decrease heroin use in the La Crosse area.

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