New task force formed to combat heroin problem in La Crosse County

A new task force is giving itself six months to make a dent in the rising drug problem in La Crosse County.

The creation of the Heroin and Illicit Drugs Task Force is the direct result from an open meeting held last June that pushed the heroin and opiates problem into the spot light.

Thursday was the group’s first official meeting.

It’s not a new problem in our community, but La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson said it’s getting worse.

“I think it’s just been more pervasive than it’s ever been,” said Helgeson.

In the past several years more people are getting addicted, arrested and even dying from heroin.

In 2000, the county recorded three deaths related to heroin overdose. Ten years later, that number quadrupled and has stayed about the same ever since.


La Crosse’s Tri-state Ambulance has also had increased the use of Narcan by upwards of 25 percent each year just to treat people who have overdosed.

Helgeson said law enforcement alone can’t solve the problem.

“It’s very difficult,” said Helgeson. “We have very limited resources and the problem is extensive. We’ve kids in teenage years all the way up to retirement persons using heroin.”

“We can’t just focus on one area or one spot,” said Keith Lease, the group’s co-chair and executive director of Coulee Council on Addictions. “We really got to take a look at this as a whole.”

The group is made up of county leaders, educators, medical experts and law enforcement officials to solve the heroin problem.

“When you get a group of people together that have a lot of experience, have a lot of expertise and you really try to focus it on one area, and you get backing from the county, from the community, we can make a difference,” said Lease.

For the next six weeks the group will look to create change by developing and implementing methods of intervention, prevention or law enforcement.

Whichever route they choose, Helgeson said something needs to be done.

“We need to be making an impact,” said Helgeson. “We need to really take a look at what we can do to try and save some lives.”

The group’s next meeting is in two weeks where they will take a closer look at data from the hospitals first responders and law enforcement to get a better idea of the problem in our area.

They will also decide whether to just focus on heroin or also look into methamphetamine and other drugs since these problems tend to go hand-in-hand.

If the group is successful in making a difference in six months, it will then look into additional resources to keep moving forward.