The Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office mid-year overdose death toll shows opioid and fentanyl-related deaths nearly doubled over the same period last year, putting Lafayette Parish on the right way to overcome the deaths of the previous year again.
The rise follows an upward trend that has lasted for several years. In 2017, 25 fatal opioid-related overdoses were recorded by the coroner’s office and five fentanyl-related deaths. In 2020, the coroner’s office investigated 61 opioid overdose deaths, including 50 involving fentanyl.
Data from the coroner’s office shows that there were 46 opioid-related overdose deaths through the end of May 2021. Fentanyl was involved in about 83% – 38 – of those deaths. Figures for May are the most recent available as reports for June and July are still pending, said Keith Talamo, chief investigator at the Lafayette Parish coroner’s office.
Opioid and fentanyl-related deaths this year nearly doubled over the same period in 2020. From January to May 2020, there were 24 opioid-related overdose deaths, including 17 involving fentanyl, according to data from the coroner.
Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant that includes heroin, synthetic drugs like fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The growing number of fatal opioid-related overdoses is a nationwide problem. In 20 years, the number of fatal opioid-related overdoses recorded nationwide has increased from 8,050 in 1999 to 49,860 in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mark deClouet, psychiatric nurse practitioner and owner of Axis Behavioral Health and Recovery, said the full picture of local opioid overdose deaths is likely worse than what is reflected in the Lafayette Parish coroner’s figures, as all overdose victims do not die immediately and may be hospitalized with health problems caused by the overdose before succumbing.
Every week, deClouet said he learned that another patient, former patient or patient’s family member in his two lines of business, Alexandria and Lafayette, had died of an opioid-related overdose. Anecdotally, patients tell deClouet and other service providers that fentanyl is involved in an increasing share of deaths because it is cheaper than prescription drugs and is becoming more readily available than the heroine.
“It’s about having access to fentanyl and trying to dilute it to a level that they suspect is tolerable, but that’s often not the case. It’s a Russian roulette type thing…. I think it speaks in times of desperation, ”said deClouet.
Axis operates in Alexandria and Lafayette. deClouet said that in Alexandria, where they have a partnership with a psychiatric hospital, they treat 30 to 40 people in inpatient care per week, while seeing around 100 more people per week in outpatient treatment. In Lafayette, deClouet estimated that they see more than 60 to 80 people per day in their Oil Center clinic.
A key to tackling the growing number of fatal opioid overdoses is access to affordable and convenient care and prescriptions used in drug-assisted treatment, such as buprenorphine, he said. deClouet and his colleagues pleaded for better access to healthcare locally.
Although treatment options are limited, deClouet said people with drug addiction and family members seeking help for a loved one can find help locally. The practitioner recommended that those in need contact 232-HELP or Beacon Community Connections, a non-profit organization that helps people in crisis navigate care options, to learn more about treatment resources locally.