Lack of opioid overdose detox facility in La Crosse County raises concerns

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – La Crosse County is among the state’s 17 counties with the highest opioid-related deaths. Local officials say there are more than 600 people enrolled in opioid treatment programs in the community.

La Crosse County health officials are continuing to fight a problem that impacts everyone.

“It’s exponential,” said Diane Oines, administrator at the La Crosse County inpatient clinic.

Today the opioid crisis requires more work from county leaders to get people the help they need.

“I think the concern is the lack of detox services that we do not have in our region,” said Al Bliss, health educator with the La Crosse County Health Department.

The closest places with a detox center are 100 plus mile drives to Madison or Chippewa Falls. La Crosse County Health educator Al Bliss said the good news is fewer people are dying of prescription overdoses.

In 2019 Bliss said only two people died from a prescription-related overdose compared to 19 two years prior.

“We have seen a big shift in our prescribing practices from our healthcare,” Bliss said.

The bad news is illegal drug use is climbing and plenty of people still need help.

“There is capacity within our community to be able to help those individuals,” Bliss said.

La Crosse County is one of 17 counties with the highest number of opioid overdose deaths, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services. A 2016 study done by Gundersen Health System looked at more than 400 people treated for an overdose at the medical center. Those people carried a $6 million healthcare cost. That’s only about 25 percent of the total county overdoses that year.

La Crosse County health leaders are trying to fix the issue with its Narcan program and Alliance to Heal Initiative. Oines said those battling addiction need to seek treatment too.

“Are people ready to change their behaviors and get recovery?” she said.

She said county health leaders have to keep working because families are affected.

“They are not able to take care of their children,” Oines said.

They are also working with schools to stop the cycle of drug use.

“Give them the support they need to decline drugs and to decline lifestyles that are going to be troublesome for them,” she said.

Bliss said 1-10 people are dealing with opioid addiction but only about 10 percent of those people seek help. He said more awareness and education will help people feel comfortable using these important resources.

Health officials said they are discussing the idea of bringing a detox service to La Crosse County.