La Crosse, Wisconsin is a quiet Midwest town and the home of University of Wisconsin La Crosse, but there is a bigger issue at hand for the citizens of La Crosse than house parties. Heroin has made a come back in the La Crosse area. There have been 24 overdose deaths since 2010, and the use and prevalence of this drug has only been increasing. In 2010 there were two overdose deaths in La Crosse County, in 2011 there were 8, and in 2012 there were 10 deaths related to heroin use. The prevalence of this drug on the streets has also been on the rise. In 2011 there were 14 arrests, 36 arrests in 2012, and 45 arrests in 2013. The growing heroin problem has caught the attention of politicians, health professionals, and those in the field of criminal justice on the local and state levels. Representative John Nygren recently introduced the HOPE legislation that aims to combat heroin abuse and reduce overdose deaths by holding prescription drug collections and training first responders to administer Narcan, a drug that counters the effects of a heroin overdose. The goal of the HOPE legislation is zero overdose deaths in Wisconsin In La Crosse County, a Task Force on Heroin and other illicit drugs has been formed to target this issue at the local level. The task force, headed by Mike Desmond, was formed through the criminal justice management council, and aims to collect evidence and data on a problem in order to formulate the best response. Dr. Lisa Kruse, a professor at UW-La Crosse and a member of the task force, gave insight as to what they have found out so far about the heroin problem in La Crosse and the surrounding communities. Use of the drug is found in all age groups. Citizens ranging from ages 27 to 71 have died from overdoses. Users generally move from prescription drugs like OxyContin or Percocet to heroin when they are no longer able get the high they desire from the pharmaceutical drugs. The shift to heroin can also be linked to pharmaceutical companies changing the make up of their pills so that they cannot be crushed and then snorted or injected. The elderly often turn to heroin when they can no longer afford their pain medications, or lose their prescriptions and find that they are addicted to their medicine. Statewide heroin use among 12-17 year olds is up by over 300% in recent years, and 16.1% of high school students surveyed reported taking a prescription drug, such as OxyContin or Percocet, without a doctor’s prescription one or more times during their life. The abuse of prescription drugs, especially among young people is a key gateway to heroin abuse. This is where the task force has decided to start their intervention. On April 26th, 2014, there will be a prescription drop off for the residents of La Crosse County. At this event citizens will be able to drop off their unused prescription medicine to prevent them from getting into the hands of teens and anyone who could abuse them. Eventually the task force hopes to establish permanent drop boxes for unused meds, but hopefully the April 26th drop off will provide some immediate relief and keep prescription drugs out of the hands of those who abuse them. Through the work of policy makers, health officials, and members of the criminal justice system, Representative Nygren’s goal of zero overdose deaths in Wisconsin is a possibility.
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