Collaborative meeting to battle opioid epidemic

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Health care workers say drug overdose is the leading cause of preventable, unintentional death in the U.S.

The Health Department says there were nine deaths in Eau Claire County related to opioids in 2018.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 130 people die in the United States from an opioid overdose.The Health Department says in 2018 there were nine deaths in Eau Claire County related to opioids.

Today's meeting featured three local hospitals, along with Prevea health, Eau Claire Fire Rescue and the Police Department.

The goal was to understand the underlying issues of the opioid epidemic and find a way to work together to combat it.

"About 80% of those who have a heroin-use problem started with an opioid prescription."

Tuesday's meeting looked to provide information and tactics to battle the growing epidemic in Eau Claire County.

McKenzie Liegel works at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. She says opioids are becoming a huge issue in the Chippewa Valley.

"We just want the community to recognize that opioids are a problem. They don't discriminate. Rich, poor, young, old; opioids can affect our community and they are. Opioids are actually taking lives."

One of the issues with addiction is the negative stigma on those who are battling it.

David Peterson, who is a recovering addict and now a registered nurse, says some people don't believe addiction is a disease.

"People on the outside still think it's a willpower issue, some people still think it's a moral issue,” he said. “Once it comes to the point of you're an actual addict, it's no longer a moral issue, and it’s no longer a willpower issue."

At the health department, they say their goal is preventing people from developing an opioid addiction, which can lead to other drug uses.

"We partnered with UW-EC and the local health systems, to bring in speakers and work around issues, to improve understanding. This funding was to increase understanding,” Liegel said. “If we increase understanding, maybe people when they go to the doctor will go 'no-no is there something else I can be prescribed instead.'"

Opioids are prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain.
Some common painkillers prescribed are: oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and fentanyl.

"We are actually seeing in Eau Claire, hospitalizations and potential over-doses by ambulance runs are still steadily increasing," Liegel said.

For Peterson, he says there is hope for those struggling with all types of addiction.

“The disease that once all-but destroyed me now has become the very disease that saved my life."

According to A Dose of Reality, a program from Wisconsin Department of Health Services, prescription painkillers are responsible for more overdose deaths each year than heroin and cocaine combined.
Officials say to always lock up prescription drugs at your home and dispose of them properly.