BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Deaths attributed to a lethal does of heroin have become so prevalent in the United States that President Obama has declared September 18-24 as National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.
"Each year, more Americans die from drug overdoses than in traffic accidents, and more than three out of five of these deaths involved an opioid," states the proclamation. "Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl, has nearly quadrupled."
Baton Rouge has not escaped the realities of the deadly drug. East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William "Beau" Clark first noticed a spike in heroin-related deaths in 2013.
"Your perceived idea of what a heroin 'junky' looks like is not what we see," Dr. Clark said. "We see people from all races, all socioeconomic standings, all backgrounds. The youngest death we've seen is 18 and the oldest is 67. It's a drug that effects everybody and that's what is so scary about it and what makes it so hard to find the patients who need help."
This year, twenty-one people have died in East Baton Rouge Parish from a lethal dose of heroin. Although this is half of the total heroin-related deaths from 2015, the fear is that there are still more than 100 days left in the year.
"I don't think we are anywhere near our final destination on this problem," Dr. Clark said.
The problem is twofold: the addict and the supplier.
"You have to treat the addition, the patient, to get them better so they don't have the need or urge to use this deadly drug," Dr. Clark noted. "There's a psychological component to the addiction that has to be addressed."
Law makers have worked to define harsher penalties for those who are found to have supplied a person who dies from an overdose. Just as important is cutting off the supply by enacting harsher distribution laws.
"I know solving this problem will not be easy. We often struggle to balance reducing our patients' pain with increasing their risk of opioid addiction," writes 19th U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. "But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic. As cynical as times may seem, the public still looks to our profession for hope during difficult moments. This is one of those times."
Dr. Clark will speak Wednesday about safe practices related to prescribing Opioids. It will be held at DHH, 628 North 4th Street, beginning at 4 p.m.