La Crosse Program Serves Growing Number Of Heroin Users

Heroin Use Is Expected To Increase Across Wisconsin, Officials Say

Eric Molina (CC-BY)

A program for drug users in La Crosse is on track to exceed the number of needles exchanged last year.

In the first five months of 2016, the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin gave out over 114,000 needles in La Crosse. That’s more than half of the 218,000 needles the center gave out last year.

Officials expect the number of heroin users in Wisconsin will continue to increase as medical providers begin to limit the prescription painkillers that often act as a gateway to heroin, according to Scott Stokes, who directs prevention services for the ARCW.

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“We’re going to see an uptick in the number of heroin users temporarily, and then we’ll start seeing a waning of new injectors,” Stokes said.

La Crosse has already seen an increase in users over the past year, La Crosse County health educator Al Bliss said.

“This year, I’ve heard from the medical examiner that we have 14 overdose deaths from a mixture of heroin and other prescription drugs,” Bliss said. “It’s been, so far this year, the worst that it’s ever been.”

Needle exchange programs are important in preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, Bliss said.

“It’s a serious public health concern. In fact the number of cases of Hepatitis C have continued to rise, primarily in young adult males,” Bliss said.

The ARCW also provides the overdose antidote Narcan to users and their families. There were 42 uses of Narcan between January and May this year, more than half of last year’s total uses.