EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Heroin and other opioids caused 89 overdose deaths in 2016. According to the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner, overdoses killed more people than homicides.
"We're still seeing trends that are not good for our community," said coroner, Dr. Beau Clark.
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Speaking to reporters during Press Club, Clark says several factors lead to the explosion of opioid addiction in Louisiana over the last decade. He says pharmaceutical companies pushed doctors to prescribe more opioids by developing the pain scale as a vital sign. Then a crackdown on doctor shopping pushed people to the streets to feed their addiction. Finally, Clark says a reduction in jail time for non-violent drug dealers led to more dealers targeting Louisiana.
"You have someone who is addicted to opioids and the heroin dealer is going to give them an opportunity to keep their addiction going," said Clark.
Now, experts are working to reverse those trends. Just like the factors that created this public health crisis, Clark says it will take many players to prevent addiction, deter drug dealers, and to get help for those still struggling with addiction. Treatment for addiction could be the most difficult of those challenges.
"It is so difficult to get that treatment piece right," said the Bridge Center Board chair, Kathy Kleibert. Funding for addiction treatment is a huge challenge. Voters rejected a tax that would have helped support the Bridge Center, a mental health and addiction recovery facility under development in Baton Rouge. Now, the center is exploring other options, like local partnerships. Some leaders are hopeful healthcare reform could also lead to more funding to help fight addiction.
"There are some new models out there that rely some on Medicaid funding, some on private funding sources, some on not for profit. If we can piece together and collaborate with all these local providers... there are some things we could do now," said Kliebert.
However, just like the rise of heroin and opioids, experts say the decline will take time.