BATON ROUGE, La. – February 9, 2021 – With only one month into the New Year, East Baton Rouge Parish is already on track to match the number of overdose deaths in 2020, which had almost doubled the highest number on record in 2019. The data provided by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office reports 21 overdose deaths so far in 2021, 245 deaths during 2020, and 126 deaths in 2019.
The office of the Coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish has a duty to investigate, track and report trends that lead to preventable deaths. Since 2013, when heroin began making a significant impact on the loss of life related to overdoses in East Baton Rouge Parish, EBR Coroner Dr. Beau Clark reported those rapidly increasing drug trends to our law enforcement partners and the public.
East Baton Rouge Parish suffered the worst year on record for overdose deaths in 2020, with 2020 doubling our previous records. That trend continues into 2021 with fentanyl-related overdose being responsible for the vast majority of these tragic deaths.
For this reason, parish officials continue to partner with advocates, healthcare providers and residents to provide resources to those struggling with addiction.
Peer Support Specialist Tonja Myles is scheduled to launch three new initiatives at the end of February aimed at helping those in need. The “Whenever You Are Ready” initiative will provide push cards with information for individuals seeking substance abuse treatment. “The Ride or Die” initiative will provide transportation to individuals seeking treatment. Finally, the “Sober Saturdays” initiative will deploy outreach teams beginning February 27 to directly connect individuals with treatment information and resources. All three initiatives are privately funded with support from parish officials.
“COVID-19 has changed how we should address opioids and other addiction prevention outreach efforts,” said Tonja Myles. “With us working together and adjusting to how we serve those with Opioid Use Disorder, we will save lives.”
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has also worked to increase access to behavioral and mental health resources in East Baton Rouge Parish through initiatives like Healthy BR and ReCast. “Our government cannot do this work alone, so we must work hand in hand with our community and partners as we address this epidemic and save the lives of our fellow residents,” said Mayor Broome.
In an effort to save lives and help disrupt criminal networks in the parish, East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office was awarded a top-performing federal grant in 2018. This continued grant allows the DA’s Office to partner with various partners including LSU’s Social Research & Evaluation Center to analyze data connected to this crisis.
Last summer, the DA’s Office produced the "Criminal Justice Response to the Opioid Crisis in East Baton Rouge Parish" report, recommending life-saving, best practices which include: conducting more thorough investigations at overdose scenes; coordinating with multiple agencies more cohesively; and identifying indicators connected to the abuse and delivery of drugs.
“We want to identify those selling to our most vulnerable population as much as possible so we can get them help before it’s too late,” DA Hillar Moore said. “These are bright people with great families in unfortunate situations. By using the data and uniting our efforts, we can reduce these numbers and give people their lives back.”
The Baton Rouge Police Department is supporting initiatives like “Sober Saturdays” by providing the outreach teams with data that pinpoints locations with high incidents of overdoses. BRPD officers will be among those early responders carrying the group’s push cards.
“The uniquely personal nature of this canvassing effort is an opportunity to provide some of our most vulnerable citizens with support, help, and counseling services that could potentially change their lives,” said Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul. “Based on the data we’re seeing, this is clearly an area of grave concern for us all. And if this effort gives people hope and changes the life of even one individual, this initiative will be a success.”
When law enforcement officers encounter citizens who demonstrate signs that they may be in need of rehabilitation services, the officer will now have helpful information to share with these individuals, their family members, or friends. The BRPD will also be providing the canvassing group with security and other support services during its “Sober Saturdays” events.