BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Last year alone, East Baton Rouge Parish saw more drug overdoses than murders. A national group is now zeroing in on the problem and hopes to bring about change.
Baton Rouge is on the short list, one of just 15 cities nationwide selected to participate in a pilot program to bring awareness to the growing problem of addiction.
"Over 50 communities applied for this approach and we actually had to make some really difficult choices with Facing Addiction because there's not a community in the country that doesn't need help with this issue," said Michael King, national director of outreach and engagement.
King said Baton Rouge will have the chance over the next year through a grassroots effort to identify solutions and bring addiction to the forefront of conversation. "That's something that we really want to bring to each of these communities," King said. "Stigma is still something that really permeates this problem and it's one of the number one reasons why we don't see more progress on it."
According to the District Attorney's Office, last year alone, East Baton Rouge Parish saw 61 murders. The number of overdoses in that same period was 89.
Anthony Pierre, Jr., a recovering opioid addict himself, said the numbers do not lie and that addiction has a tight grip on the capital area. "As we're speaking right now, I guarantee you someone is becoming addicted to something and it's your loved one. It's your mother, your father, your brother, or your coworker, you know," Pierre said.
Speaking from experience, Pierre said drug abuse is a slippery slope that starts small and spirals into full blown addiction.
"You don't plan on being addicted to these things, you just keep taking it more than prescribed and then it gets worse and never better, but one day that prescription is going to run out and what are you going to turn to? You turn to the street," Pierre added.
He is excited about the new program and calls it a step in the right direction towards fighting drug abuse. "We're finally trying to break that stigma of this is something we can only talk about behind closed doors," he said. "We can talk about it out in the open and that's the first step in the solution."
The group plans to hit the ground running next month in Baton Rouge. If all goes well, the goal is to roll out similar programs nationwide beginning next year.