Opioid-related deaths up, but key silver lining in state-approved report

Report shows prescriptions down, treatment up
Updated: Nov. 12, 2019 at 7:27 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - On Tuesday, Nov. 12, a panel of experts approved a report combining local and statewide data that shows key improvements in the fight against the opioid epidemic, though opioids killed more people in 2018 than in years prior.

The report, issued yearly by the Advisory Council on Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education, indicates there were 455 opioid-related deaths in 2018. Opioid deaths have continued to climb in Louisiana since the legislature established the council.

Opioid overdoses accounted for 34% of all overdose deaths in 2018, the report says, but doctors wrote roughly 90,000 fewer opioid prescriptions to Medicaid recipients in 2018, and the total number of prescriptions decreased overall as well. There are no longer more prescriptions than people, on average, across Louisiana, according to council chair, Dr. James Hussey.

For every 100 residents, there are 96 prescriptions, down from 105 per 100 in the 2017 report.

In addition, more people sought drug abuse treatment in 2018 than in 2017. Overdose-reversing drugs like Narcan also became more accessible.

Hussey blames fentanyl for the rising death totals. The dangerous, man-made drug is often included in fake pills or cut with other illicit drugs, he says. Louisiana is 18th worst in the nation for fentanyl deaths, according to the report.

“If you’re not getting it prescribed by a doctor, you might be getting a pill that could be fake,” he said. “In that pill could be fentanyl, or carfentanyl, which could result in an overdose right then and there.”

One hundred and thirty-seven opioid overdoses occurred in Jefferson Parish, more than any other parish in the state. Seventy-six occurred in St. Tammany, 39 in Orleans, 34 in East Baton Rouge, and 26 in Washington.

According to a Louisiana youth risk assessment survey nestled in the report, nearly 22% of high school students admit to abusing prescription pain medications at least once, a 2.4% increase from the 2017 study.

The task force made a series of recommendations in the report, most of which centered on education and prevention. The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) will release the full report before the year’s end.

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