Senator discusses heroin, opiod abuse with Vernon County officials


Viroqua Area School District Administrator Kehl Arnson (left) was part of a round-table discussion with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin regarding opioid and heroin interdiction efforts.


VIROQUA — Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin heard about the difficulties faced treating heroin and opioid drug abuse during a round-table discussion with Vernon County officials at the Vernon County Courthouse Annex last week.

Baldwin spent an hour talking first about her efforts in Congress to support the Jason Simcakoski Promise Act — bipartisan legislation that promotes the responsible, measured prescription of opioid painkillers.

Baldwin said her visit to Vernon County was specifically “to hear more to inform my work as I go back to (Washington, D.C.).”

The senator was met by a number of health, law enforcement, local government and judicial representatives who all gave input on a continually growing problem.

Viroqua Police Chief Daron Jefson said his department was dealing with an overdose death that occurred within approximately the last week where the drug user died with the syringe still in their hand.

“We learned this same person had overdosed on July 3 in La Crosse and then one other time since then before their death,” Jefson said. “We are seeing multiple overdoses… It’s getting worse and worse…”

Jefson said of particular concern were false reports of stolen prescriptions, to which a police report is written out. Then a prescription drug user often gets a new prescription just days after having the initial prescription written.

Someone abusing drugs and getting two long-term painkiller prescriptions within days, “could really go on a tizzy then,” Jefson said.

Baldwin said a balance has to be struck with the medical truth that opioid prescription drugs are a necessary, useful treatment for pain. She said since 2000, measuring pain and treating pain has become a “vital statistic” measured by medical professionals. The key is looking at the duration of a prescription and shortening it.

Baldwin said recent new guidelines for opioid prescriptions by the Center for Disease Control have become the “gold standard” for medical professionals and the federal government has supported reforming how it is addressing the national epidemics of prescription opioid and illegal heroin trade through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was passed by Congress this year.

“CARA is an important first step at the federal level,” Baldwin said.

A number of local professionals including Sharon Williams of the Vernon County Department of Human Services, Paul Schmidt of Center Point Counseling Services and Vernon County Coroner Janet Reed echoed concerns over a number of different treatment options that are impractical or difficult due to lack of money.

Schmidt said that people with drug addiction issues, who are on federal medical assistance as their primary health payment method, actually cause health care providers to lose between $12-to-$15 per hour because the reimbursement rate is so low.

This causes problems in there being enough service providers — Schmidt said one such provider closed due to lack of funding in the Prairie du Chien area.

Reed said Monroe County is “a big hotbed for drugs” when it comes to heroin and other illicit drugs. Vernon County Lt. Deputy Jason Crume said that in addition to opioid drugs, there continues to be a steady growth in the abuse of methamphetamine.

Dr. Martha Karlstad of Center Point Counseling Services said electronic health records have decreased the productivity of health care professionals, but she alluded to some ways that certain programs can be tweaked. Baldwin asked Karlstad to forward her more specifics, because it sounded like a problem that could be improved to give registered nurses better access to help assist doctors caring for those with opioid addiction.

“We want to make things move more smoothly for health care providers,” Baldwin said. “We don’t want to put up roadblocks to treatment.”

Vernon County District Attorney Timothy Gaskell said drug abuse continues to cause untold collateral damage as it affects children and families.

“My greatest concern is for children who try it once and are hooked because it’s such a high,” Gaskell said of heroin and methamphetamine. “What I would like to echo from what I’ve heard is that we have a strong community of professionals who are trying to address the issue.”

Baldwin was enlightened by what she learned.

“I suspected I would hear a lot about the need for resources,” Baldwin said, adding she was heartened that there was a sense that all of those gathered at the table were working together.

“This is an emergency like the Zika virus or the Ebola virus,” Baldwin said, adding that lives are being lost. She said there are appropriate uses for opioid pain medication, it’s a matter of following the latest guidelines for treatment.

Article courtesy La Crosse Tribune, Matt Johnson, LEE NEWSPAPER:

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