Overdose deaths from heroin in East Baton Rouge Parish increased some 25% in 2018 over the year before, an upward trend that officials say is directly linked to the widespread use and addiction to opioid drugs.
“In almost every case we see, heroin addiction began with a legitimate prescription from a healthcare provider,” East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark told the Baton Rouge Rotary Club in a lunchtime speech.
Officials first noticed a huge spike in heroin overdoses locally about seven years ago. In 2012, Baton Rouge had just five heroin overdose deaths. One year later, that number had jumped to 35. Since then, it has continued to climb and in 2018 was up to 44—not including overdose deaths from other opioid drugs, which roughly doubles the count.
“This opioid crisis is truly the worst epidemic in U.S. history,” he said.
Baton Rouge is hardly alone in battling opioid addiction and elected officials are quick to talk about numbers and causes. What has proven still elusive are solutions.
Stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the country is an important first step, Clark said, acknowledging that is easier said than done and not really within the purview of local or state officials anyway.
It’s also incumbent on providers to be more responsible in prescribing opioid painkillers, he said.
Finally, it’s important to educate patients and arm them with information. Two state laws passed in recent years require doctors to explain to patients if they’re prescribing a pain killer about the risks of addition and possible alternatives.
Pharmacists also are required to disclose such information before filling an opioid prescription.
Clark predicts the flurry of lawsuits currently being filed by states and individuals against the large pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, which makes oxycodone, will ultimately result in big settlements that can be used to help battle addiction issues.
“I believe one day there will be a big payout like there was with the tobacco litigation,” he said. “What will be important for us is what we do with that as a community.”