La Crosse County to distribute fentanyl test strips in attempt to halt overdose deaths

County is on pace to surpass total of 34 overdose deaths last year

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — La Crosse County will distribute thousands of test strips to detect whether fentanyl is present in other drugs in a quest to stanch the bloodbath of overdose deaths.

In a pilot project that comes as overdose deaths escalate, La Crosse County social workers will distribute the test strips to people with whom they work. The county also is donating test strips to community service agencies and health-care providers.

The county is on pace to surpass the overdose death tally of 34 last year, with most cases involving a person who had ingested fentanyl. The county Medical Examiners Office had recorded 13 confirmed deaths as of Monday, and another 21 suspected cases still are being investigated.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid, considered to be around 50 times more potent than heroin, that often is mixed into other drugs to increase potency. It can be deadly when even trace amounts are ingested.

“We hope the test strips will allow people to make informed decisions about what they’re using,” said Anneliese Skoda, assistant manager of Integrated Support and Recovery Services at La Crosse County Human Services.

“People may not be aware a substance contains fentanyl, but if they are maybe they will choose not to use, or at least make sure they use with someone who has access to Narcan,” Skoda said.

Narcan is a potentially life-saving nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes.

The strips allow users to test a very small amount of a drug to see whether it contains fentanyl. The strips distributed will include information on local support services and resources for people with substance use disorders.

“This is also an opportunity for us to distribute information about resources available locally to help people with substance use issues,” Skoda said. “We want to keep people safe from fentanyl, which is so dangerous, and at the same time help people get the treatment they need so they’re no longer at risk.”

The strips previously had been classified as drug paraphernalia until Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation to decriminalize them.

La Crosse County received a State Opioid Response Grant to buy the test strips. The county has about 2,500 strips to distribute in the pilot program and may acquire more in the coming months.

Members of the public can contact La Crosse County Human Services at 300 Fourth St. N., phone (608) 784-4357, for information on substance use disorder treatment services.

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