News 8 Investigates – Illegal Drug Use: Perception Vs. Reality

Illegal drug use is a top concern across five counties, but what do statistics show?

There is a universal concern among the majority of people in the La Crosse area.

The Great Rivers United Way wanted to shed light on areas of need in the Coulee Region with its Compass Now 2015 report.

The report surveys people from a five-county area– La Crosse, Monroe, Trempealeau and Vernon in Wisconsin and Houston in Minnesota. Among those surveyed, there was one community issue that was a top concern among all age categories, education levels, income levels, race and gender: Illegal drug use.

See Report:

Measuring illegal drug use is difficult, because not many people admit to using. To get a better picture of what it looks like in La Crosse County, you will find data from agencies most impacted by illegal drug use below.

 Drug Related Arrests in La Crosse County

Year Number of Arrests 2011 913 2012 899 2013 961 2014 1,008 2015 1,019

 Courtesy: La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department

 Drug Related Deaths in La Crosse County

Year Number of Deaths 2011 7 2012 4 2013 5 2014 4 2015 7

 Courtesy: La Crosse County Medical Examiner

Drug Related Hospitalizations in La Crosse County
Gundersen Health System La Crosse Campus
(Patients treated for primary or secondary problem)

Year ER/Urgent Care Inpatient 2011 180 109 2012 202 132 2013 195 96 2014 165 74 2015 190 80 (through 12/21/15)

Inpatient numbers may include people who were admitted through the ER/UC.
Courtesy: Gundersen Health System

Drug Related Hospitalizations

La Crosse and Satellite campuses

(Patients treated with addiction/chemical dependency as the primary diagnosis)

Year Primary Care 2011 1,408 2012 1,348 2013 1,427 2014 1,344 2015 1,239

Courtesy: Mayo Clinic Health System Franciscan Health Care

Drug Use Among La Crosse County High School Students

Year Used Heroin Used Rx Without a Scrip 2010 3% 15% 2013 3% 16% 2015 3% 14%

 3,336 students completed the 2015 survey from the Holmen, La Crosse, Onalaska and West Salem school districts.
Courtesy: 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

2013 Drug Use Comparison to State and Nation

Used Heroin Used Rx Without a Scrip La Crosse County 3% 16% Wisconsin N/A 15% United States 2% 18%

 3,336 students completed the 2015 survey from the Holmen, La Crosse, Onalaska and West Salem school districts.
Courtesy: 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Drug use trends show different patterns among different agencies. Despite this, there is still a concern about illegal drug use throughout the Coulee Region.

Twenty-seven year-old La Crosse County resident Stephanie Dunn became a part of these statistics.

“I was the person in high school against every drug there was,” said Dunn, who is a recovering heroin addict.

Dunn was a three-sport athlete and good student at West Salem High School.

She was on the dance team, played soccer and had a passion for gymnastics. But that all changed the summer after she graduated from high school in 2006.

“So about 18 is when I started experiencing with prescription drugs…,” said Dunn. “…Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, any type of opiate drug. At 19 was when the prescription drugs weren’t quite doing what they were at the beginning. I started doing heroin. It was cheaper and it did the same thing, same feeling.”

Dunn considered herself a functioning addict for several years.

“I had a job,” said Dunn. “I was able to hide it.”

It was a secret she had to go to great lengths to keep private.

“After the first year, it definitely was an everyday thing for me,” said Dunn. “I couldn’t go a day without using.”

Three years into her heroin addiction, Dunn became pregnant with her first child.

“When I got pregnant, I definitely tried to stop,” said Dunn. “I wasn’t using as much as I would normally, but I was too ashamed to tell somebody that I was using drugs when I was pregnant.”

Dunn gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But two years later, when she became pregnant with her son, she wasn’t as lucky.

“When he was born, he was suffering from withdrawals, and I wasn’t able to take him home with me right away…,” said Dunn. “…He had to be put on morphine and weaned off of that.”

Her son spent about a month in neonatal intensive care after his birth.

“I used to just read about mothers who were using while they were pregnant… and I was just… very disgusting, and just I would just judge them,” said Dunn. “(I) never thought that I would be one of them.”

Dunn thought she had reached rock bottom after her son was born, but within eight months she started using again. And this time she got into methamphetamine.

“It just spiraled until I lost everything,” said Dunn. “I went to jail. And I got charges to where now it’s hard for me to find a job. I ruined my credit. It messed up a lot of things for me.”

She spent several months in jail over a one-year period. It was that jail time and her children that helped Dunn turn her life around.

“I didn’t want to lose my kids,” said Dunn. “I still had custody of my kids but I wasn’t in their lives and I knew that was going to happen if I didn’t stop.”

Dunn started accepting help from several La Crosse County agencies, including a program offered by the YWCA called Ruth House.

“Ruth House is a home where women that are transitioning out of treatment centers or if they are transitioning out of homeless shelters, like Salvation Army, can come and spend up to 90 days, and hopefully get a job, find an apartment or someplace to move in that’s safe,” said Peggy Ham, Ruth House coordinator.

“It’s nice because you have other women there you know are trying to make an improvement to their lives also,” said Dunn. “So you don’t have temptations. You don’t have people who aren’t serious about their sobriety around you.”

During their three-month stay, the women have to remain sober and attend group meetings like Narcotics Anonymous.

“We want them to be getting outside, to the outside, getting a recovery family,” said Ham. “And that’s the way to do it. To start going to meetings and meeting other people who want to stay sober.”

Dunn left Ruth House in August.

“It was a very happy ending,” said Ham.

She found a job and is now living with her family in an apartment.

“The past six months have been the best, probably, since I’ve been a mother, just because I’m more grateful for the things I do have, and I’ve worked hard to give my children a good home,” said Dunn.

But it wasn’t until Dunn let go of the shame she felt about her addiction that she was able to step out of the way and let recovery take over.

“I just remember being so hopeless and being at my bottom, feeling like there is no way out of it but there is a way using the community’s help…,” said Dunn. “…Once I started doing that and accepting the county’s help, that’s when I got sober.             

Ruth House is located in La Crosse. You have to be sober for 30 days before you can be accepted into the house.