La Crosse leaders discuss fighting drug-related issues in community, state, nation

The drug problem in the country has reached “epidemic” levels, according to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind.

On Friday, Kind sat down with La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer, Sgt. Andy Dittman, La Crosse County Judge Todd Bjerke and ER physician and Tri-State Ambulance medical director Chris Eberlein to discuss what needs to take place to address these problems at all levels of government.

Kind, D-La Crosse, said the drug epidemic Americans are currently facing is an “all hands on deck moment.”

He and local law enforcement officials agree, it’s going to take collaboration to change this trend of drug abuse.

The La Crosse Police Department said meth and heroin are a big problem they’ve been dealing with in recent years. When talking to Kind, Tischer said the city and county have a good drug court and diversion programs and a solid network of treatment facilities, but the department is finding it’s still not enough.

“We just really talked about the nexus between public safety and public health, the lack of treatment options that we see locally, in our community, and the need for improving that,” Dittman said.

Bjerke said only so many people can be put in these drug and treatment court programs, but he suggested to Kind that if early-on treatment programs were available to drug users, it could have a significant impact.

“And it’s not just locking them up and throwing the key away, I heard from them. That only perpetuates the problem because when they leave they’re still going to be addicted and they just get caught into this cycle of drug use, and that’s what creates the challenge that we face,” Kind said.

All areas of local law enforcement, the criminal justice system, health care providers and treatment programs are stretched thin right now, Kind said, and any possible solution to fight the “drug epidemic” requires more funding. Funding he believes is on its way.

“There’s legislation now pending in Congress, the president has made this a point of focus in his final year in office, that there needs to be better coordination and more resources devoted in order to break out of this cycle of drug use and what it leads to in our communities,” Kind said.

But even with more funding and more resources, the police department said if anything is going to change, it’s going to take the whole community.

“The police aren’t going to arrest our way out of this issue,” Dittman said. “We need to collaborate and work on this problem together.”

Other possible solutions put forward Friday included closer monitoring of prescription drugs, better training within law enforcement and health care and more evidence-based treatment solutions to help someone with a drug addiction.

Kind said another area being addressed at the federal level is drugs coming into the U.S. from other countries. He said President Obama created an agency to embed U.S. DEA and DOJ agents and military personnel in other counties to help train and educate them to intercept drugs before they enter the U.S.