La Crosse County is set to begin a new harm reduction strategy for overdoses, but not everyone is on board

Supporters of the program say test strips could save lives

LA CROSSE CO. (WKBT) – In 2021, more than 30 people in La Crosse County died of drug overdoses, most ingesting Fentanyl.

The county is investing in a new, controversial strategy to reduce overdose deaths.

An employee at Coulee Recovery Center, who did not want to be identified, has been sober for almost six years.

“Fentanyl is very scary to me because people don’t realize what they’re using,” said the employee.

She believes fentanyl test strips can make a difference.

“If someone comes into Coulee Recovery, they’re looking for help, they’re trying to get clean and if I hand these out and I give them instructions, it’s something that might keep them alive,” she said.

That’s the goal of the program, keeping those who struggle with substance abuse disorders alive.

La Crosse County is distributing 2,500 fentanyl test strips through community agencies like Coulee Recovery Center.

Each strip comes with information about local resources for those who are addicted.

“We’re hoping that by bringing test strips to the community, it will bring some awareness to the dangers of fentanyl and also be able to provide connections to resources for people who may want to choose recovery at some point,” said Annelise Skoda, the assistant manager of the La Crosse County Human Services Department.

But the strips and the program are controversial.

There have already been 13 confirmed overdose deaths in La Crosse County in the year 2022, and the county’s Medical Examiner Tim Candahl isn’t so optimistic when it comes to the pilot program.

“I don’t know how that works when you’re addicted to something,” said Candahl. “Are you going to test your drug to make sure there’s not fentanyl in it? These people need that, they need that sensation, they need that rush.”

Regardless of the various points of view on fentanyl testing strips, one thing is for certain: local fentanyl use is on the rise.

“People don’t know what they’re using. The pill pressing, you hear that it’s in marijuana now, I’ve been told that people using stimulants are nodding out because there’s fentanyl in it,” said the employee of Coulee Recovery Center.

A recent study from the National Institutes of Health found that between 2018 and 2021, the number of fentanyl pills seized by law enforcement increased 50-fold.

In La Crosse County, test strip supporters hope this program will stop deaths from rising too.

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