The statistics about opioid abuse and death are staggering. U.S. Senator Bill Cassiday says some 1,900 Louisiana residents died as a result of the opioid epidemic in 2020.

The news doesn't get better as that is a 48% increase from 2019. The opioid epidemic continues to impact people in Louisiana in a deadly way.

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy spoke about the issue on the floor of the U.S. Senate Tuesday. Cassidy pointed out that deaths from opioids started to go down in 2018 after Congress passed legislation, but he added that once the pandemic began, things began to go downhill again. He says the pressure of the pandemic combined with the massive increase of fentanyl coming into America from other countries drove the numbers of drug addiction ever higher.

One of the ways the state of Louisiana is trying to tackle the program is through the HOPE council which was created by the state legislature. It's an advisory council on Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education.

In 2020, the state of Louisiana began a program to help those in the community who need access to care to fight opioid addiction. The program is used to help people get access to recovery programs and support services. The grant also is being used for the following:

  • Increase prevention, intervention, and education activities for opioid and stimulant use, misuse, and abuse.
  • Provide treatments, transition, and referral for patients re-entering communities from criminal justice settings.
  • Increase access to harm reduction strategies and linkage to HIV and viral hepatitis tests for priority populations.

Senator Cassidy says the numbers of calls for help due to overdose continue to climb through the state of Louisiana. He adds that the number of people dying from overdose deaths due to opioids continues to climb, and without more help, the program will continue to grow.

Acadiana Harm Reduction
Acadiana Harm Reduction Facebook

One agency in Acadiana that is doing its part to try to help those who are addicted is Acadiana Harm Reduction. The group says they try to offer things to those addicted without judgment. They offer the following:

  • Clean IV using supplies
  • Narcan
  • Family planning
  • Basic toiletries
SWLA Do No Harm picture
Photo courtesy of SWLA Do No Harm Facebook

The organization uses its Facebook page to educate anyone interested in what is happening in the opioid community including warning users about dangerous fake drugs that are out on the street.

Cassidy pointed out an example of what is happening in one parish,

East Baton Rouge is seeing significant increases in fatal overdoses. According to WAFB and the coroner's office, 242 people died of an overdose in 2020. This year through September, East Baton Rouge has seen 214 fatal overdoses according to the District Attorney's office.

To hear everything that Cassidy had to say on the floor of the Senate Tuesday, click here.

The following is a copy of Cassidy's speech:

Madam President, 

We need to talk about the opioid crisis. 2020 data shows the largest annual increase in opioid deaths in the last 50 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we lost 69,710 Americans to opioid-related overdoses last year. That’s a 37 percent increase from 2019. 

In Louisiana, the opioid crisis is getting worse – and fast. In 2020, our state saw a serious spike and the steepest surge in drug overdose deaths in the nation.

Louisiana drug overdose deaths surpassed a record-high 2,100 in the 12 months leading to March 2021. Overdose mortality increased statewide by over 56 percent since last year.

The numbers are devastating. Last year, opioid deaths increased – New Orleans by 51 percent with 365 overdose deaths; 69 percent in Jefferson Parish; 35 percent in St. Tammany Parish; and 64 percent in St. Bernard Parish.

Deaths continue to climb throughout the state this year as well.

In Alexandria, Acadian Ambulance has “responded to nearly 160 calls of opioid overdoses just in Rapides Parish – an average of over one call per day.”

East Baton Rouge is seeing significant increases in fatal overdoses. According to WAFB and the coroner’s office, 242 people died of an overdose in 2020. This year through September, East Baton Rouge has seen 214 fatal overdoses according to the District Attorney’s office.

These deaths can be prevented. 

In 2018, Congress passed landmark opioid legislation and the first time in almost 30 years the number of opioid deaths decreased. Then the pandemic hit. Louisiana became the top state in drug overdose growth during COVID-19. The pressure of the pandemic and subsequent influx of fentanyl from other countries increased drug addiction. After a year of lockdowns, social isolation and stress, the opioid-related deaths shot through the roof. 

The opioid crisis is an epidemic. And we should treat it like one. It took a backseat to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s time we bring some renewed attention to the crisis. For opioids, there is no vaccine.

Over 1,900 Louisianians lost their lives to drug overdose last year. 48 percent increase from 2019. These are not just statistics. These are human lives. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and friends losing their lives to addiction. This is a national crisis, but also personal. 

The numbers speak for themselves. We feel it throughout Louisiana and throughout the country. Louisianians are struggling with addiction. Americans are struggling. We need to act before more lives are lost.

This crisis must be met head-on at all levels. We need to work with local leaders to make sure we implement opioid policies like the ones Congress already passed in CARA and the SUPPORT Act. These provide resources to stop illegal drugs at the border, support the discovery of non-addictive painkillers, and deliver treatment to help those already addicted.

Every day we do not take action, another mother loses a child, another son loses a father, and another wife loses a husband. I am committed to solving this crisis – to saving these lives.

Let’s come together as a Congress and rededicate ourselves to solving the opioid epidemic.

With that, I yield the floor.

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