According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose has become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 and the majority of drug overdose deaths (66 percent) involve an opioid.
It’s an epidemic that’s not only sweeping the nation, but hitting close to home for many Baton Rouge families.
“We are having people dying in large numbers,” Jan Laughinghouse with Capital Area Human Services said. “It is tearing apart families and the fabric of our community as a whole.”
Recently released numbers from East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark show 111 lives were lost to overdose in East Baton Rouge Parish last year. That’s up from 89 overdose deaths in 2016.
“They’re absolutely devastating,” Clark said.
Approximately 675 Louisiana residents die from prescription overdose every year.
“More and more people are losing loved ones,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said. “If we can’t stem this epidemic, it means tragedy after tragedy unfortunately.”
City and parish leaders alike are taking steps to try to stem the epidemic.
Clark said the first step is to help those who are already addicted on their journey to recovery.
“They have a mental health, behavioral health and substance abuse problem,” Clark said. “They need to be treated like a patient would be treatead.”
Capital Area Human Services said it takes more than one resource to stem the epidemic. The mental health and addiction recovery center recommends using medication assisted treatment in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. That treatment helps people in early recovery stages as they begin to have cravings.
“We are seeing it increasingly and the evidence really bears it out, that being able to use medication with opioid treatment really works better because when these folks relapse and, if they do, they are particularly sensitive to the respiratory depression effects and the circulatory relapse means an accidental overdose and death,” Laughinghouse said.
The state is also making sure emergency responders have medication on hand that can save someone’s life if they do overdose. EMS paramedics administered over 737 doses of naloxone to individuals who were overdosing in 2017.
While one part of the solution is helping people who are already addicted, the big push is to stop people from getting addicted in the first place.
Attorney General Jeff Landry created a website called End the Epidemic to provide information and access to resources.
Landry’s office also worked with law enforcement agencies to put drug take-back boxes in every parish.
“It’s going to be a comprehensive approach to try to stem this epidemic,” Landry said.
East Baton Rouge Parish is taking the fight to the opioid manufacturers themselves.
“East Baton Rouge Parish has hired a team of attorneys to file a lawsuit against the drug manufacturers and wholesale distributors responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic,” Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said.
Even with all these measures in place, officials said it will be a long road ahead.
“This didn’t happen overnight. It’s something that’s been going on for a while, so it’s not like the solution is going to be overnight either,” Clark said.