La Crosse County drug overdose deaths nearly double, medical examiner says

County confirms 37 drug overdose deaths in 2020 with three pending
La Crosse County Drug Overdose Deaths

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Drug overdose deaths in La Crosse County reached an alarming height. A wrong path taken can turn into a case file on La Crosse County medical examiner Tim Candahl’s desk.

“Any time you’re in my office talking about this topic, that’s not a good sign,” Candahl said. “(We are) overwhelmed with a lot of drug overdose cases.”

Candahl’s office confirmed 37 deaths from drug overdoses in 2020. Three are pending, but Candahl expects La Crosse’s number to reach 40 nearly double 2019’s total (22). Tax dollars pay for these investigations. Candahl estimates each investigation from their end runs $3,500 each.

“It’s not the DA’s time involved, it’s not the investigators, the PD’s time that they’ve got involved in it,” Candahl said. “Because obviously they’ve got a lot of man-hours in there and follow-ups to do.”

Toxicology reports revealed Fentanyl in 28 of these people’s systems. The three pending cases could add to this number.

Candahl said it’s hard to blame the pandemic for the rise in overdose deaths.

“I have colleagues that work in other counties, their drug overdose rates are not even close to our range and they have the same populations,” he said.

Addiction traps people in a cycle. Data shows it is difficult for people to escape.

“It still comes back to an addiction,” Candahl said. “Once you’re addicted, you’re hooked.”

Candahl supports the resources existing in La Crosse County to help these people. However, these numbers show the resources in the present are not enough for the future.

“I feel kind of bad because now all of the sudden all the work we put in for the last few years, we’re not showing any results,” he said,” “We’re not turning the trend.”

These 40 case files on Candahl’s desk only tell a portion of La Crosse County’s predicament.

“How many more are out there?” Candahl said.

By the time he gets the answer to this question and the names hit his desk, it’s too late. Candahl is working with the County Health Department to identify when people become addicted to drugs. He said the county is already investigating four new overdose death cases this year.