In Louisiana, nearly 40% of the 1,140 reported drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018 — a total of 444 fatalities. From 2019-2020, overdose deaths have jumped 50-75%, the largest increase in the country. Around 70% of overdose deaths involve opioids, meaning opioid-related fatalities outpace firearms and motor vehicle deaths.
“These numbers only represent the tip of the iceberg — and account for the overdose deaths we know about,” said Mark DeClouet, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, based in Lafayette and Alexandria, who treats patients with acute psychiatric and substance abuse needs in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. “We see the real-life results of Louisiana’s opioid crisis on a daily basis and are working to connect patients to available resources and help. It is a battle.”
Louisiana is in the top ten for predicted overdoses — increased from May 2020 to May 2021 at 48%. The overdose numbers are considered incomplete and come from preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, in 2020, Louisiana was the top state in drug overdose growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to information from the CDC.
“As a mother who has lost one child to an opioid overdose and has another child who struggles with an opioid addiction, every cell in my being is not affected by the opioid crisis,” said Lilly Harvey, an opioid addiction survivor turned advocate, based in Winnsboro. “An opioid addiction can tear the strongest of families apart — one lie, one enabled moment, one financial drain at a time — all accumulating and taking an emotional toll.”
Extreme examples of overdose deaths occur regionally across Louisiana, For example, between Jan. 1 and May 13, 2021, in Calcasieu Parish, 41 people died from opioid overdoses, according to Calcasieu Coroner Terry Welke. Public health officials in Calcasieu Parish are calling the deaths an epidemic as the number of people who have died from opioid overdoses this year averages out to more than two people per week.
DeClouet works with Axis Behavioral Health and Recovery (Lafayette and Alexandria) and is an attending clinician at Longleaf Behavioral Hospital (Alexandria).
In 2018, Louisiana providers wrote 79.4 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons, compared to the average U.S. rate of 51.4 prescriptions. The rate was among the top five in the U.S. that year (according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rate Maps. 2019, October 3.)
There are resources for help, including Louisiana 211. To find help in your city or parish, text the keyword OPIOID to 898-211.