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Trend Reversed: Solutions available and under consideration for substance abuse

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WATCH PART ONE: Trend Reversed: Drug-related deaths soar in 2020

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - La Crosse County has utilized a variety of treatment options from office care, to intensive outpatient treatment, and recovery homes but no true full recovery center.

Building a brand new treatment facility could cost millions of dollars. Alliance to Heal Coordinator Al Bliss believes the community could pursue an easier solution, a navigator who serves as a guide to help people ready to seek the appropriate type of treatment.

A new, full-service treatment center could cost millions of dollars.

"A position where a staff person can follow them all along the continuum of care from the time of misuse of drug use to time for treatment to recovery and up to including sober living all the way through," said Bliss. "A continuous care type of model for this individual.”

Both Bliss and Dr. Chris Eberlein of Gundersen Health System say the key to helping someone with a substance abuse disorder is getting them help when they’re ready.

"Aligning the patient with the right treatment option is always a challenge, so we’re working at getting patients navigated through the system to figure out what works best for them.”

Another solution in play is the La Crosse Drug Court Program which has been around since 2002 and helps 20-25 people at a time. Judge Scott Horne took over the reins five years ago.

“In a nutshell, the drug court program is aimed at individuals who are at high risk because of lack of support in their life who have committed crimes motivated by addiction,” said Judge Horne.

The Drug Court Program in La Crosse County has been around since 2002.

News 19 also asked Judge Horne about the scrutiny often observed when it comes to sentencing of criminals who distribute these illicit substances.

Judge Horne said that he has to take in different factors for every case and that they have to begin with the propositions that the court is required to begin with which is probation.

"Probation should be the outcome unless the judge finds that probation unduly depreciates the offense," said Judge Horne. "That it doesn't offer adequate protection to the community or that treatment is best provided in a custodial setting."

For criminals who are often not dealing and performing crimes to support their habit, Davis said they often face a risk for overdose which is why the drug court program can play a key role in helping save lives.

“You have people, let’s say they go to our jail for 30 days for whatever offense, and they come out, and they try to use at the same level that they tried to us before. Those account for a lot of overdoses,” said Davis.

Tricia Davis reviews data the La Crosse Co. Medical Examiner's Office.

Davis has reviewed some of this evidence as part of the La Crosse County Overdose Review Fatality Team. They analyze those deaths by interviewing family and accessing other information like court records in a search for early warning signs.

"Children who are in early middle school. Their school counselors, their parents identified their levels of anxiety were fairly high in middle school. They were doing things like cutting. They were missing school. They were failing. They complained to parents about not being able to keep up,” said Davis.

The program was started almost three years ago, around the same time as Alliance to Heal, which deals with finding solutions to the opioid crisis. Davis and her team relay that information to local schools to help educators look for these cues and work to intervene. However, that work has been hindered in 2020 due to the pandemic.

"Unfortunately, we’re learning from the folks that we’ve lost which is sad but it has given us a way to at least use their death as a positive," said Davis.

Dr. Eberlein believes things are already starting to turn around.

"Patients are more apt to come in than they had been in the past and so I think in the next six months hopefully we can start to see this trend turn around.”

Dr. Anna Kelly believes that people need to change their terminology when referring to someone who suffers from addiction. She also believes in trying a variety of methods to help people work to find their footing. As a former addict, she now serves as a living testament for her 400 patients that change can happen.

Dr. Kelly describing the opioid overdose death chart in her office.

"Recovery is real. It can happen and these are some of the choices you have when you try to enact that in your own personal life. And in doing so change your own life and the life of the people around you since it is a family disease," said Dr. Kelly.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse, whether that be alcohol, opioids, or stimulants, we have provided some helpful resources below:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline:

Great Rivers 2-1-1:

Alliance to Heal:

Coulee Recovery Center:

Driftless Recovery Services:

Adult & Teen Challenge Western Wisconsin:

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Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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