The spike of heroin overdoses in East Baton Rouge Parish is even greater than previously reported, the parish coroner said Thursday after completing a review of drug-related deaths.
Dr. Beau Clark confirmed 26 heroin-related deaths occurred this year, a fivefold increase from last year’s total of five. The updated numbers show heroin contributed to more than half of all drug-related deaths the parish saw in 2013.
Clark’s office recorded 51 drug-related deaths through Thursday, compared with 27 in all of 2012, a drastic increase that illustrates the lethal impact heroin is having in the Capital City.
“You can see with these numbers how we’re even more concerned,” said Clark, who has proposed increasing prison sentences for heroin dealers to deter distribution of the drug.
The coroner had put the total heroin-related deaths at 18 last week with a handful of cases pending. He discovered this week that one fatal heroin overdose had been mislabeled in his system, while four others were not included in his initial count because heroin appeared in the victims’ urine and not in blood testing.
“We went back and audited everything to make sure we weren’t missing anything,” Clark said.
The overdose deaths not attributable to heroin were typically caused by a combination of prescription pills and other narcotics, a condition known as multi-drug toxicity. Other narcotics are often found among people overdosing on heroin as well, Clark noted.
A monthly breakdown of heroin deaths reveals a sudden increase beginning this summer.
The parish had seen one or two fatal heroin overdoses a month through the first half of 2013, while 17 have occurred since August.
“I don’t have any explanation for that,” Clark said. “In October, we have not had a drug overdose that was not heroin.”
Clark and other officials have sought to draw attention to what they refer to as a heroin epidemic in south Louisiana.
They say a recent crackdown on prescription painkillers — and a 2001 law that eliminated life sentences for heroin dealers — has fueled the local heroin market.
“The squeeze created by the prescription monitoring program has made drug cocktails harder to obtain, and as a result, the market has re-discovered heroin,” said Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
But the return of the drug reflects a national trend, as several other states also reported increases in heroin-related deaths.
In reviewing toxicology reports, officials also found two overdose deaths this year involving Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction.
“It’s basically the new methadone,” Clark said, adding the parish did not see any deaths involving Suboxone in 2012.