New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse says overdoses in New Orleans have outpaced murders. Rouse has classified 47 deaths as homicides in 2016, but within the first five months of 2016, he classified 65 deaths as opiate overdoses — compared to 63 opiate overdoses for all of 2015. Overdoses for the synthetic opioid fentanyl have more than doubled.
Rouse presented his mid-year budget update to the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee July 13, where he said the additional toxicological tests for overdoses — done at St. Louis University — put the department $19,000 over budget. He tapped into the department's reserve funds to cover their costs, but it's not a long-term solution. "At any moment I am a broken X-ray machine away from stopping operations," Rouse said.
As Rouse explained in a February Gambit cover story, his new multimillion dollar building has room for a state-of-the-art toxicology wing, but he can't afford to hire staff or equip it, he said. "I'm looking at $200,000 to get the job done vs. $900,000 to do it in house," he told the committee.