La Crosse Police Investigating 9 Recent Fatal Drug Overdoses

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — La Crosse police are investigating nine recent drug overdose deaths amid concerns that a powerful animal tranquilizer may be present in the local illicit opioid supply.

The La Crosse Police Department, the city's mayor, Gundersen Health System and Tri-State Ambulance warned the community Tuesday about the high number of fatal overdoses during 2023's first three weeks.

Toxicology reports on those overdose deaths are pending, and it may take weeks to complete, the La Crosse Tribune reported.

But the deaths have raised concerns that the animal tranquilizer xylazine, known as “tranq,” may have entered local illicit supplies of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine. The tranquilizer can leave users in an hours-long stupor, and it also causes slowed breathing that interferes with the effectiveness of naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses.

“We want those who are struggling with substance abuse to know there is possibly a dangerous mix here in our community,” said Jason Melby, La Crosse's assistant chief of police.

The ineffectiveness of naloxone in treating the recent overdoses highlights the importance of emergency care, such as supportive breathing, that can keep overdose patients alive even if the medication fails, said Dr. Chris Eberlein with emergency medicine at Gundersen Health System.