BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Federal officials are taking a new approach to fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic by publicly pleading for families to pay attention to the drugs that are claiming lives every day.
According to DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brad Byerley, more than 50,000 people have died from overdoses nationwide in the last two years. For comparison, he says 58,000 U.S. service members died during the Vietnam War.
"We realize we have to let the public know," said Byerley.
The 20-year veteran investigator says of all the drugs he's dealt with, he's never seen anything take hold like heroin or opioids.
"The addiction in and of itself, how quickly someone can become addicted, and then at that point their life completely revolves around the opioid addiction," said Byerley.
Like law enforcement, doctors are having to change the way they approach opioids. Addiction specialist and former medical examiner, Dr. Louis Cataldie, explains addiction is a chronic illness with no quick fix.
"It's biological, psychological, spiritual, from the aspect of you violate your values systems, disease," said Cataldie. "When you reach a point of addiction, your neurophysiology has changed so much that you've got to be in this for the long term. Short term therapy is not going to work."
This is why agencies like the DEA are hoping to reach people at risk before they start using. Bylerly says parents can start by getting rid of unused prescription drugs through a drug take back program, and by talking to kids early about the dangers of opioids.
Among the tools the DEA is sharing with the public, is a documentary published in 2016 called Chasing the Dragon. It documents the effects and dangers of an opioid addiction.
If you are a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can reach out to these organizations for help: