The number of deaths from opiod overdose tripled in the last 20 years reaching 43,000 in 2017. This is higher than those killed in car crashes, which only totaled 40,000 in the same year.
According to NSC’s statistical analysis, this translates to a 1 in 93 chance of an American dying from opioid drugs, compared to 1 in 103 from car accidents. That’s the first time in U.S. history.
“You are at extremely high risk of death after you’ve had one overdose that we’ve brought you back from with NARCAN or you’ve used NARCAN on scene,” Dr. Chris Eberlein with Gundersen Health System said. “The deaths are just the tip of the iceberg of this whole problem.”
The growing problem has members of the local Alliance to HEAL looking at different ways to tackle the addiction from different avenues.
Nine different work groups are working towards different goals with the ultimate goal of reducing and ending.
“Treatment is certainly a big part of it, prevention, getting out those messages for adolescents, but also for older adults,” Coordinator Al Bliss said.
Groups focused on topics like drug take back boxes, limiting prescriptions of opioids and navigating the system to services just to name a few. La Crosse County Health Department Director Jen Rombalski says she hasn’t seen this type of collaboration before.
“We’re really getting at various parts of this problem and working on things and learning more and setting up activities and goals,” Rombalski explained.
Even members of the Mayo Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System executive teams came out to listen and give their inputs on changing the situation for the community.
“It affects health systems, it affects places of work, it affects law enforcement,” Regional V.P. Dr. Paul Mueller said. “So reversing the opioid epidemic affects everyone in our community.”
“We need to decrease the suffering of the people who are suffering from addiction in our community,” Gundersen Health System CEO Dr. Scott Rathgaber explained. “I think this is a great opportunity to do that. So if we can decrease deaths and suffering and addiction that will be a great thing.”
Both health facilities also agreed to monitor the prescription of opioids from their physicians. The discussions among the groups Wednesday left many feeling La Crosse may be taking a giant step forward.
“A year from now I can’t wait to have another interview with you and tell you what’s happened,” Rombalski finished. “This is the most promising thing I’ve seen in this community.”
One thing the alliance hopes to do eventually is open a detox center for those seeking treatment. Bliss says while there are a number of programs in our area for help, the closest outpatient center is located in Chippewa Falls.