Sen. Baldwin holds roundtable discussion on drugs

8 overdose deaths have been reported in La Crosse County

A roundtable hosted by Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin is looking at the growing opioid and heroin epidemic.

According to the La Crosse County Medical Office, there have been eight drug overdose deaths in the first four months of 2016.

Officials from law enforcement, the medical field and treatment experts expressed their concern about the growing drug problem with Sen. Baldwin at Tuesday’s forum.

While each brought up different ideas, they all agree that more needs to be done to stop the epidemic.

Baldwin said conversations about what she describes as an epidemic aren’t happening enough.

“Given the stigma that is connected to heroin addiction, to prescription drug addiction, those conversations sometimes don’t start in communities,” said Baldwin.

One of the biggest concerns raised at the roundtable was increasing the amount of treatment programs in the area.

“The treatment and diversion programs … have shown promising results, in terms of people not returning back to their drug use,” said Al Bliss, health educator for the La Crosse County Health Department. “But we know funding is somewhat limited for that.”

Expanding funding for those treatment programs is something Baldwin thinks is necessary.

“There we are truly talking about dollars and resources to be able to have comprehensive treatment at a time when somebody is open to seeking it,” said Baldwin.

Doctors from Gundersen also spoke on improving the prescription drug monitoring program, particularly across state lines.

“That way you can’t get prescriptions from multiple providers,” said Dr. Chris Eberlein. “Making it easier for providers to look up and figure out how many you are getting and where you are getting them from.”

“I believe there’s a federal role to play in better coordinating those databases so that we can keep more people safe,” said Baldwin.

Despite the problem, Baldwin said the collaboration between local agencies will go a long way in getting drugs off the streets.

“The people who are dealing with this epidemic in various facets are talking together and are problem-solving together, and it’s making a difference,” said Baldwin.

Another concern brought up by some at the roundtable was the Affordable Care Act. Despite more people getting covered, experts are concerned that insurance companies are not covering enough when it comes to treatment options, some of which cost thousands of dollars.

Baldwin also announced her VA reforms regarding opioid abuse were being included in a larger legislative package on Capitol Hill.