East Baton Rouge, Louisiana is expecting to break a record this year, and not a good one: the county is on track to see more overdose deaths related to opioids and drugs in general this year than any other year in history. The county's coroner, Beau Clark, says the state is taking small, but still important, steps to reduce the number of overdose deaths, and that local government is stepping in to help curb the epidemic as well. Still, though, it could take longer than hoped for significant declines in those numbers.
The most current issue of Business Report detailed just how powerful the opiate crisis has become in Louisiana workplaces, with 85 percent of injured workers receiving opioids for pain management between 2012 and 2014. One in six of those workers received prescriptions for the long term. Right now – and this information is staggering – there are currently more opioid prescriptions in the entire state of Louisiana than there are people.
So far this year, there have already been 53 overdose-related deaths in East Baton Rouge. 20 of those deaths were from heroin, with the other 33 being related to other drugs which, in most of those cases, also involved some type of opioid. This number, according to Clark, means that the area is on track to see about 106 more and similar deaths by the end of 2017. This is a higher number than any other year in history. Last year was the first year the region saw fatal overdoses surpass deaths from homicide, with 89 people dying from an overdose.
Even more unsettling is that East Baton Rouge has seen more people die from overdose deaths this year, which is not even over yet, than they saw in all of 2012. However, new state laws are expected to have a significant and positive effect on the problem. Earlier this month, bills were signed into law that focused on reducing the number of prescriptions doctors can write for opioids. One of these laws will go into effect in August.
However, locals are skeptical due to a proposal last year that ultimately failed for a tax for the Bridge Center of Hope, a mental health treatment center. This was a major impediment to the opioid addiction fight, according to Clark, because the center would have offered treatment to the mentally ill and the drug-addicted. It also would have helped keep them out of jail. A proposal to reintroduce the Bridge Center tax was made earlier this year, but the idea was ultimately shelved and appears to be a dead issue at the moment.
Another center that was similar to the Bridge Center – the Earl K. Long Medical Center – was more successful in its efforts at battling addiction, but the Earl K. Long center operates on a much smaller scale. The hospital was ultimately closed down under a state privatization plan, however Clark believes that local governments should uphold the Earl K. Long Center as a model going forward. Says Clark: "As opposed to incarcerating people,” Clark said, “Why don’t we get them the health care they need?