Potent drugs lead to uptick of overdoses in La Crosse County, ER physician says

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — A La Crosse doctor is sounding the alarm over an uptick in drug overdoses.

Drug overdose deaths in La Crosse County are down from a year ago, but that number can increase quickly when a stronger-than-normal batch is distributed in the community.

Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance responds to many different types of calls, and on some days, drug overdoses are called in more than others.

“Were constantly monitoring the number of overdoses we have in the community, and the Narcan usage we use in the EMS. We do get these occasional spikes oftentimes one day will be worse than other days,” said Dr. Chris Eberlein, an emergency medicine physician at Gundersen Health System.

A recent uptick in drug overdoses is raising concern among local health officials.

“It probably is related to a quote localized bad batch. Probably stronger heroin or it’s mixed more potent,” Eberlein said.

First responders can tell when a potent batch is being distributed in the community, he said.

“We will see it takes more Narcan to wake someone up, so repeated dosing is always a red flag for me that there’s something stronger in the community,” Eberlein said.

People using the drugs are also aware of the increased risk, he said.

“They know if there’s a bad batch from word of mouth, and they really take that seriously,” he said.

Despite the recent increase,  county Medical Examiner Tim Candahl says overdose deaths are down compared to last year.

“Drug overdoses were at 27 for this year, and last year, we set a record at 39,” Candahl said.

Candahl and Eberlein agree that last year’s increase was due to a decrease in resources.

“With COVID around, there’s a lack of help, I mean you’ve got a shortage of staff everywhere, and I’m sure relates back to trying to get these people some help, but who is out there to go to,” Candahl said.

Addiction continues to be one of the nation’s biggest challenge, and local health experts hope to raise awareness that will help them save lives in La Crosse.

In 2020, the CDC says nationwide, drug overdose deaths rose 30%, killing nearly 95,000 Americans.

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