BATON ROUGE, La. – Drug overdose deaths have reached an all-time high, according to the CDC.
The coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish, Dr. William Clark, says he’s already recorded nearly 250 drug deaths this year, a number he’s never reached before. He adds that 90% of the drug deaths so far include fentanyl.
“I believe we’re going to reach over 300 drug overdoses by the end of the year,” Clark said.
Baton Rouge mother Pamela Rivas has lost three children to this epidemic, most recently her son Shawn in July.
“Somedays I wake up and it doesn’t feel real,” Rivas said. “Then I walk through the house and it is real because I miss my son everyday.”
Rivas’ first experience losing a child came in 2006, when her older son, Matthew, overdosed on meth.
“Matthew died shortly after losing his father to cancer,” Rivas said. “I believe that it what turned him to use drugs, to try to numb the pain.”
Matthew’s overdose then lead her daughter, Danielle, to start using.
“She was with Matthew the night before he died,” Rivas said. “She blamed herself for not taking him to the hospital. You would think what happened would have caused her to say she would never use drugs, but it had the opposite effect.”
Danielle struggled with addiction for 15 years before she died after taking heroine laced with fentanyl. Her death came just three weeks before Shawn’s.
“To look at her autopsy report and see it wasn’t heroin, it was heroin laced with fentanyl, that was my first ever clue about how dangerous this stuff is,” Rivas said. “I think addiction is much more complex than we’re aware. I had six children. I have three that never tried drugs, never wanted to try drugs, and then I have three that did. All three that did are dead.”
The CDC says the country reported more than 96,000 drug overdoses during the pandemic, a 30% increase from March 2020. In Louisiana, that number is up by 56%.
In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued its first public safety alert in six years warning Americans of the increase in fake prescription pills being laced with fentanyl.
Clark says he predominantly sees the drug present in cocaine and heroin, but believes it’s only a matter of time before it starts being laced in marijuana.
“This is a drug that can be laced in anything,” Clark said. “You can ingest it orally, you can smoke it, you can snort it. That’s the concern. We have lots of people across the country who use marijuana recreationally and if you end up with a batch that’s got illicit fentanyl in it, the consequences can be disastrous.”
The DEA says a deadly dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the size of a pencil lead.
Both Clark and Rivas believe law enforcement need to crack down harder on dealers. They also want to see more treatment options available for those with addiction.
“I don’t want what’s happened to me to happen to any other parent,” Rivas said. “It’s a hell I don’t want any other parent to ever have to experience.”
In Louisiana, when a person dies from taking an illegal drug, the dealer can be charged with second-degree murder. Rivas is still fighting for all of her children’s killers to be put behind bars.
“What they think they have gotten away with, they haven’t gotten away with it because justice may be delayed right now, but I can assure you, we’re not going to stop until they are behind bars,” Rivas said.
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