Every day on the streets of New Orleans, people are dying of opiate overdose. Reportedly, 160+ people died of an opiate overdose in New Orleans in 2016, and in many cases, NOPD officers were the first ones on the scene. Unfortunately, police officers in the city were ill-equipped to handle this specific medical emergency until paramedics arrived with the resources needed to address the overdose. But this is changing.
In a new city-wide intervention plan, it was recently announced that New Orleans police officers will be carrying naloxone, a drug that can subvert the effect of opiate overdose and save lives on the spot. The medication is already carried by New Orleans firefighters and paramedics, and employed hundreds of times per year.
At a news conference at University Medical Center, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said: “There are many people trapped in addiction, and they’re unable to work themselves through this very powerful dependency that easily develops from opioid use. This is a problem that courses through every neighborhood and everybody that we know.”
From Every Angle
Putting naloxone into the hands of police officers in New Orleans is part of the plan presented by the City of New Orleans to help stop the steadily increasing rates of opiate overdose in the city – rates that have surpassed the rates of lives lost to continual gun violence in New Orleans. In a plan titled Addressing Opioid Addiction and Overdose in New Orleans, the City of New Orleans reports:
- Overdose rates in Louisiana are higher than the national average, checking in at 19 per 100,000 residents as compared to 16.3 per 100,000 residents.
- In 2016, 211 people died of drug overdose in New Orleans alone.
- Of the 211 people who died of a drug overdose in the city, 166 lost their lives to opiate overdose – twice as many opiate overdoses as in 2015.
- In addition to providing naloxone, physicians are decreasing the numbers of opiate painkillers they prescribe and keeping tighter watch over patients who use the drugs for pain management. Additionally, there has been a strong push to reduce stigma associated with opiate addiction and increase access to treatment services that can save lives.
Dr. Joseph Kanter is medical director for the New Orleans Health Department. He said: “As physicians, we’ve got to do a lot more to cut down on the number of prescriptions we’re writing. We’re going to work really hard to connect people with addiction to the treatment that they need.”
As much as the City of New Orleans is working hard to put measures in place to address the problem of opiate drug use and abuse, a great deal more must be done before the death rates start to see a decline. It will take time to see the effect of stigma-reducing efforts and to get treatment services in place for all those who are in need, and then to identify and connect the individuals in crisis with programs that can help them heal. In the meantime, for families who have a loved one who is living with an active opiate abuse problem, the time is now for self-advocacy.
As hard as this may seem at the outset, it is vital to the process of helping the individual living with addiction and the family to connect with services. This may include:
- Actively seeking out evidence-based information about the nature of opiate abuse and addiction, opiate overdose, and treatments that make sense for different people in different phases of readiness in terms of accepting treatment
- Discussing treatment and what that looks like for the entire family with the person in need of rehab and other family members who can play a role in making it happen
- Staging an intervention for a loved one who has a difficult time self-identifying as someone living with an addiction, a resistance to connecting with treatment, or the lack of direction and drive needed to take the steps necessary to go to rehab
- Seeking out treatment for all family members who have been impacted by addiction so all may begin their own journeys to recovery, coming together as a family in the process
Has your family been struck by opiate addiction in Louisiana? Is treatment the next step?