Dubuque Drug Task Force says heroin overdose deaths haven't stopped

Published: Aug. 31, 2016 at 5:44 PM CDT
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People in Dubuque are tired of hearing about lost loved ones due to heroin overdoses. Dubuque had 23 overdoses and nine overdose deaths so far this year, that’s according to the Dubuque Drug Task Force. The number of overdoses and deaths have varied month to month. The most overdoses happened in March with eight. April had the most deaths.

Katlin Lepsch says her brother David was her best friend, but his heroin addiction turned him into someone she didn't recognize.

"I mean, for my brother, his two friends passed away two days before him, yet he still choose to use, knowing there was fentanyl in that batch," said Katlin.

In April, police warned of a deadly batch of heroin circulating through the city. Days later, Dubuque police arrested four men on charges of distributing heroin. Police say those arrests have not stopped the deadly drug on the streets of Dubuque.

"We disturbed it a little, but other people stepped up to the plate, who still deal it. So we're not seeing much of a difference yet," said Sgt. Gary Pape of the Dubuque Drug Task Force.

Sgt. Pape says 80 percent of heroin addicts first got addicted by abusing prescription pain killers, also called opioids.

"If we could curb that a little bit, the demand for it would go down," said Pape.

During a town hall meeting in Dubuque last April, hundreds of people called for more opioid specific treatment at area hospitals. Mercy Medical Center's Turning Point treatment center says, since then, they've added staff and expanded treatment hours.

"We know that if people are able to engage in their treatment within 72 hours, we have a better chance of helping them and following through," said Turning Point’s Malissa Sprenger.

Sprenger says in the past, patients coming into Mercy's emergency room who were dealing with heroin withdraw didn't always meet the hospital's admission requirements.

"That's what we're looking at to see how we can do better with that and help to support patients when they need it the most,” said Sprenger.

That's a welcome change, Lepsch says. She and her family are left dealing with all the "what ifs" and "could have beens".

"David never got to do those things and he doesn't get to see his niece, it's really hard," said Lepsch.