La Crosse doctors notice spike in drug overdose hospitalizations

Overdose related hospitalizations rise in La Crosse region, county deaths trending down in 2021

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Doctors in La Crosse are seeing more drug overdose patients in the hospital. One La Crosse doctor says it’s possible an especially dangerous drug is moving through the community.

A La Crosse Fire Department official said drug overdose deaths come in waves in the region. Typical drug users don’t know the difference between these, especially dangerous drugs. That means more people lose their lives when they take their normal dose. Things were looking better in the fight against drug overdoses in La Crosse County.

“We had a nice steady decreasing trend up until the pandemic,” Gundersen Health System’s Dr. Chris Eberlein said.

Society hit a wall in 2020.

“I think the pandemic has put a lot of stress on people,” Eberlein said.

The opioid epidemic is nothing new, but the pandemic piled on to the country’s mental health problems. People turned to drugs to fill the holes the pandemic dug into people’s lives.

“Last year basically doubled what we had been seeing,” Eberlein said.

La Crosse County lost 40 people to drug overdoses in 2020. This year hospitalizations spiked significantly.

“Even more unfortunate, the medical examiner’s office, they’re investigating currently investigating more overdose deaths in the last couple of weeks,” he said.

The most recent investigation involves a body discovered in Cameron Park last Sunday.

“When you add all this up, you’re looking at the potential of a more fatal or potent dose of narcotics in our area,” Eberlein said.

These drugs Eberlein refers to are especially dangerous because they are made with other narcotics that take small amounts to kill.

“About 90 percent of our opioid deaths this year have been from Fentanyl,” Eberlein said.

An official with the La Crosse Fire Department said they’ve responded to 34 overdoses this year. He said that number is likely higher.

Al Bliss from the La Crosse County Health Department confirmed 13 drug overdose deaths as of May 27 in La Crosse County. That number is an improvement so far compared to last year.

“Last year was pretty tough seeing those numbers keep climbing,” Eberlein said. “This year, we’ll be at half of where we were last year, if this continues, which would be good.”

County health leaders would like to see zero deaths.

“One death is too many,” Eberlein said.

The use of Narcan is a big help for emergency crews. Eberlein said Narcan or generic naloxone helps drug overdose victims breathe again within seconds of its use.

Eberlein says telehealth visits during the pandemic helped people with substance abuse disorders. Those visits helped them overcome barriers so they could get the help they need.