Lethal cocaine-fentanyl combination leads to three deaths in La Crosse County

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — Fentanyl is a deadly opioid often found in batches of heroin and meth, but during the past weekend, the La Crosse County Medical Examiner’s Office found it cocaine, a drug that’s been dormant in this area.

“Here we are discussing this again, it seems kind of like a broken record,” said medical examiner Tim Candahl.

Candahl is used to dealing with opioid related deaths, but he said finding cocaine laced with fentanyl was a surprise.

“I’ve been here 16 years and I haven’t seen that lethal combination before,” he said.

“An influx of three to four overdoses, and we investigate all within a seven- to 10-day period,” Candahl said.

In just six months, La Crosse County has reported 19 deaths by overdose.

“It does hit all ages, but there is a peak in the 30s and 40s,” said Dr. Chris Eberlein, an emergency medicine physician at Gundersen Health System.

Candahl says the number of deaths could be higher.

“We wouldn’t be at 19 today if we didn’t have Narcan,” he said. “I would highly indicate we would have 20 percent more.”

Narcan reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

“If someone overdoses, it is actually the antidote to the overdose,” Eberlein said.

In cases like this, experts say it’s important to have Narcan nearby.

“It’s crucial, if you’re using these drugs, to have Narcan available and have someone sober with you,” Eberlein said.

The amount of fentanyl in showing up in the drugs is unknown.

“Unfortunately, when you use these drugs, you don’t know how much fentanyl or what is in it, so the risk of overdose is high,” Eberlein said.

The chances of survival if you get a potent batch are low.

“You’re more than likely to end up at my office, and it’s pretty sad when you come to my office, because there’s no tomorrow,” Candahl said.

Narcan can be found at local hospitals, pharmacies and recovery centers. People also can get prescriptions for Narcan from their health-care providers.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at (800) 662-4357 or 211.

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