Orleans Parish Coroner hopes to change a trend in drug overdoses

Health

File photo of fentanyl. (WGNO)

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse says his office is just as much about the living as the dead. For example, data he collects on drug use is shared with law enforcement in hopes of getting drugs off the street to save lives.

Dr. Rouse and others familiar with trending drug habits say there's a problem in Louisiana and they want to get the word out: Our state has a serious problem when it comes to prescription painkillers.

“With there being 118 prescriptions per 100 people we know that that is a huge addiction here,” says Brian Sullivan of Addiction Campuses, a company working to shed light on America’s drug problem.

Sullivan quotes a Centers for Disease Control report that also found that 40 percent of heroin users started out with prescription painkiller addictions.

Louisiana is in 8th place in terms of states with the highest ratio of painkiller prescriptions per person. But the next step is worse.

"When you can't get your pills anymore and you turn to the street where you would pay $100 for OxyContin, you can get a bag of heroin for $5 or $10,” says Sullivan.

And in Orleans Parish, Coroner Jeffrey Rouse says heroin use is leading to something even more lethal.

"We took a look at the number of drug deaths involving a new form of heroin so to speak, and that is the drug called fentanyl. In 2014, we had only two deaths in which we saw fentanyl in the person's system and for both of those deaths they were possibly related to being prescribed medically. In 2015 to date, we've had close to a 400% increase in the number of deaths involving this drug called fentanyl."

Rouse says it's 10 times stronger and 10 times cheaper than heroin, and it's deadly even to experienced users—he’s seen them die with the needles still in their arms.

At Majoria Drugs in Old Metairie, Pharmacist Al Spitale says he's never encountered anyone attempting to forge a fentanyl prescription. He says the drug, which Majoria Drugs only stocks in a patch form, is primarily used at hospitals.

Spitale says Louisiana's prescription monitoring system, which began in 2010, makes a big difference in checking legitimacy.

“You can go in and find out what someone had filled, where they had it filled, how much it was filled for and who was the doctor that wrote it. It helps us detect ‘doctor shoppers,’ or just people who are looking for narcotics,” says Spitale.

The Addiction Campuses hotline is 1-888-614-2251.

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