Opioid Prescriptions and Opioid-Involved Deaths on the Rise in Louisiana

Stephen Marcantel

@StephenMarcant2

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

As Louisiana’s opioid-involved deaths rise, places like Washington Parish are hit the hardest.

One in 1800 people will die from opioids in Washington Parish, the highest rate in Louisiana, according to data obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health.  

Louisiana and Washington Parish have seen an increase in opioid-involved deaths over the years. Louisiana had 455 opioid-involved deaths in 2018, according to the LDH. Washington Parish accounted for 26 of those deaths. Opioid-involved deaths include drug poisoning and deaths where opioids contributed to the death, according to the LDH. 

a line graph which shows the opioid involved deaths in Louisiana increasing from 2012 to 2018
A map which shows the opioid involved deaths in Louisiana in 2018. Many sections have no opioid involved deaths but some sections have as much as 100 to 140 deaths.

Executive Director Richard Kramer of Florida Parishes Human Services Authority, said there is a correlation with opioid use and Washington Parish’s depressed economy, lack of job options and lack of resources.

“When people are hopeless, they tend to use substances more often,” said Kramer.

Washington Parish has a poverty rate of 26.4% compared to the national average of 15.1%, according to U.S. News and World Report. The parish has a median household income of $31,013 compared to the national median of $56,444.

Washington Parish has few drug rehabilitation centers, one being operated through FPHSA. They also operate another center in neighboring St. Tammany Parish. This does little to help if people in Washington Parish do not have the resources and transportation to use these services, said Kramer.  

Washington Parish also has a high rate of retail opioid prescriptions per 100 people in Louisiana. Data obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared the national average to Louisiana and Washington Parish in 2018.

A line graph of the opioid prescriptions in louisiana compared to the United States from 2006 to 2018. Louisiana holds higher numbers than the United States and Washington parish rests above both of them.
A map which shows the opioid prescriptions in Louisiana in 2018. Numbers range from 80 to 140 prescriptions throughout the state

High prescription rates are correlated with higher opioid deaths and use, according to Kramer. Some people become addicted to opioids through prescriptions. People may turn to illegal opioids as prescriptions become harder to obtain, said Kramer. These illegal opioids can be contaminated with stronger synthetic opioids such as fentanyl which can increase the chances of overdoses, said Kramer.  

FPHSA has taken steps to help the people of Washington Parish. Through grants, they have been able to equip first responders with naloxone, said Kramer. Naloxone is a medication used to counter the effect of opioid overdoses. Naloxone is often referred as the brand name Narcan.

“Narcan is a really valuable tool, it literally is the difference between life and death,” said Kramer.

Kramer has is trying to work with Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa. They want to obtain money from the federal government for grants. This could fund outpatient programs, different types of therapies and obtaining suboxone, said Kramer. Suboxone is a medication used to treat people with opioid addictions.

One organization in Washington Parish aims to deal with opioid usage through preventative education. ADAPT Inc., is involved with schools in the parish to teach children and teenagers the dangers of opioid abuse, said Thomas “Rusty” Fornea, Executive Director of ADAPT Inc. The organization’s goal is to keep people from using it in the first place, said Fornea.

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