BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State Police and Drug Enforcement Administration officials hosted a Heroin Summit to address the increase in recent deaths. The summit was at the BREC Independence Park Theatre in Baton Rouge. The East Baton Rouge Coroner's office reported 18 deaths so far this year. Last year, there were a total of 34, a significant increase from five deaths in 2012. In New Orleans, there were 66 deaths caused by heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Baton Rouge area was ranked 19th in the nation per capita for heroin overdose deaths.
Investigators said during the summit, there is not one solution to the problem. They say it will take the entire community: law enforcement, medical personnel, community members and those who's lives have been impacted by the drug to figure out a way to stop the rise in popularity of heroin.
"That's the face of a drug user," said Tracy Bynum, of Birmingham, Alabama. Bynum spoke with two other mothers who had children addicted to heroin.
Bynum's daughter, Madison, 18, died after using the drug for a second time in 2009. She says her daughter's boyfriend introduced her to the drug and injected her. A couple hours later, Madison asked him to inject her again. A friend who was with the two told Bynum that her daughter said she didn't want to use the drug anymore because it made her sleepy. Bynum says her daughter never woke up after that.
She says she always thought heroin was another states problem. Pictured that type of drug user as a scruffy, junky type. She says she spoke with her daughter about drugs, but heroin never crossed her mind.
Chiquita Wallace knows Bynum's story because she too has lived it. Her son, Kirk, 39, died January 30, 2013. He was the first heroin death in East Baton Rouge in 2013.
"He was found by his cleaning lady in his bathroom, dead, on the floor with a needle in his arm," Wallace said.
Investigators say heroin has become a trendy drug, growing in popularity with the middle upper class 15-25 year old range.
State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson says the heroin coming across the border from Mexico is quite potent.
"Back in the 70's and 80's, the heroin on the street had a purity level of 10-12%. Now we're seeing it as high as 40 to 50 plus percent," Edmonson said.
That change in purity, they say is what is leading to an explosion of overdose deaths.
Shane Evans, the chief of investigations with the EBR Coroner's office, says in some cases the drug can hardly be detected in certain tests.
"The chemical, the signature of heroin in a person, it's not had time to metabolize in their urine. They're dead that quickly," Evans said.