La Crosse receives $25,000 grant for team seeking to reduce drug overdose-related deaths

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -- - The La Crosse County Health Department recently received a $25,000 grant from the Department of Justice. 

The money will help address drug overdose-related deaths in our community by establishing an overdose-related death review team.

La Crosse County is one of six sites throughout the state selected as part of an effort to reduce the number of drug overdose related deaths. 

"I'm really excited for La Crosse," said Mallory O'Brien, Wisconsin DOJ review team trainer. 

O'Brien said the review team approach is the first of its kind for the community.

"They are one of our first pilot sites across the state that are developing overdose fatality reviews," O'Brien said. 

In 2017, La Crosse County confirmed 26 deaths in which drugs were the primary cause. There are two more cases still pending. 

The county found that 17 of those deaths were related to opioids or painkillers.

"It is alarming," said Al Bliss, La Crosse County Health educator. 

He said the problem is growing in the area. 

"We had 25 overdose deaths in 2016," Bliss said. "That number has increased." 

In response, the state is assembling overdose death review teams that will help identify missed opportunities for intervention. 

"It's about how we can get ahead of it as opposed to waiting for someone to die," O'Brien said. 

She said teams will look at past drug overdose deaths to find out how each person got to that point. 

"It's taking a public health and criminal justice model and molding them together, so we can begin to understand what's going on with the overdose fatalities that are occurring in La Crosse County," O'Brien said.  

Bliss said the $25,000 grant will be used to help fund staff for the extensive research and training over the next year. 

"We have all health care, law enforcement, elected officials and many others that can work together to look at ways of how these can be prevented, what works and what fits in our own community," Bliss said. 

Leaders at the initial training meeting on Monday said they have created a database for team members to log their recommendations through this process. Then they can start creating real solutions that can be implemented locally and statewide. 

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