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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

City officials urge treatment as drug overdose deaths surpass murders

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 12:05 AM

click to enlarge The health department's Joseph Kanter: "Opioid addiction a medical illness. It's not a character flaw,"
  • The health department's Joseph Kanter: "Opioid addiction a medical illness. It's not a character flaw,"

Drug-related overdose deaths surpassed the number of murders in New Orleans in 2016. New Orleans health department medical director Joseph Kanter is urging people struggling with substance abuse to seek addiction treatment.

According to New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse, of last year's record 211 drug-related deaths, 166 involved opiates — compared to 81 in 2015. Compared to 2015 deaths, the number of people who died with the synthetic opioid fentanyl in their system more than tripled. There were 13 fentanyl-related deaths in 2015, when there were 93 drug-related deaths overall. Forty-eight people died with fentanyl in their system last year.

Kanter says "unfortunately these are in line with national numbers" for drug-related deaths, which climbed to more than 50,000 in 2015. Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015.

"Opioid addiction is a medical illness. It's not a character flaw," Kanter said. "There's excellent treatment for it. Friends, family members and loved ones who suffer from addiction need to know there is a treatment available, and you should help your loved ones go and seek treatment."

Kanter said Metropolitan Human Services District (504-568-3130) is the city's "front door" for treatment services, which are available to under- or uninsured people. "They still have options," he said.

The overdose-reversing drug naloxone is available over-the-counter without a prescription at University Medical Center and Crescent City Pharmacy (2240 Simon Bolivar Ave.). First responders with EMS and New Orleans Fire Department also carry naloxone, which they've used hundreds of times since 2015. New Orleans Police Department officers do not carry it. Following a first responder's administration of the drug to someone experiencing an overdose, "they still need to go to the emergency department," Kanter said. "Oftentimes the naloxone will wear off before the heroin wears off ... Once they're in the emergency department, the goal is to connect them to resources in the community."

With the spike in deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl, Kanter said "it's so important for people with loved ones in their lives who are users to have naloxone ... People who are users never really know what they're injecting."

Kanter says it's crucial to support people who don't want additional care following an overdose. "It's tough," he said. "Oftentimes it takes a whole village. These people need the love and support of their family members. Relapse is a part of treatment. Success rates of substance abuse treatment are not at 100 percent, they're not close to that, and we know that, and that's OK. That's why they need a lot of support."

Kanter also urged people to destroy unused prescription painkillers, which can be dropped off anonymously at a drop box at 1116 Magnolia St. "Please get these used bottles off your shelf and dispose of them properly," he said.

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