SPECIAL REPORT: The Opioid Crisis in SWLA; A mother's story

SPECIAL REPORT: The Opioid Crisis in SWLA; A mother's story
(Source: Maranda Whittington/KPLC)
(Source: Maranda Whittington/KPLC)
(Source: Maranda Whittington/KPLC)

SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - Imagine a football stadium filled with 64,000 people. That's how many died from opioids in 2016 in the United States.

Calcasieu Parish has seen its share of drug-related deaths, but is the opioid crisis here?

A local mother believes so, experiencing its effects firsthand.

On almost every wall of Amy Talley's home, you'll see Justin.

"He's fun," said Amy. "He's got a great sense of humor."

Justin loved movies, music and most of all his friends.

"His friends have always been a really big part of his life," said Amy. "Since he was little he's just really really loved his friends."

But something happened that changed the course of Justin's life forever.

"His dad committed suicide, and I think that it was a really hard thing for him to deal with," said Amy.

So hard, his mother says Justin turned to Xanax.

"I think it helped him to not feel things," she said. "It kind of numbed him."

Justin battled with his addiction to the anxiety medication for years, but a few months ago he wanted to get his life together and give it up for good.

"His brother had gotten (them) an apartment together, and his brother had lined up a job for him. "It was going to be a matter of maybe a week before he was up there," said Amy.

His mother says he stopped taking Xanax for a few months and planned to move to Virginia to get a clean start. A week before Justin was supposed to leave, he wanted to say goodbye to some friends. Amy was hesitant, but she dropped him off and went to work.

Justin texted her and told her he would spend the night. So the next day Amy went back to work where she found a deputy looking for her.

"I thought is it Justin, is he in jail, and I thought no because if he was in jail I would have got a phone call this is something different, and then my heart sank, and I think I already knew before he walked in and told me," she said.

Justin died of an overdose, just weeks before his 28th birthday. Amy assumed it was the same medication he had struggled with, but she learned that wasn't the cause.

"When the coroner told me that the amount of Xanax that he had in his system would not have killed him, that he had Fentanyl in his system I'd never in heard of Fentanyl," she said.

While Justin's death was heartbreaking for Amy, it's a scary realization for everyone that deadly opioids like Fentanyl are here in Southwest Louisiana.

"In the last couple of years, it started in our area, and it's getting increasingly popular probably in the last year or so," said Calcasieu coroner, Dr. Terry Welke.

Welke says he's seeing three deaths a month due to opioids and says the majority of the deaths in our parish all have some ties to drugs.

"80 to 90 percent of the homicides that we get through here have some sort of a drug-related incident," he said.

And similar to Justin's case, many of the drugs moving their way through our parish are usually laced with other drugs, like Fentanyl.

"The dealer or dealers that they're buying from don't know how these things are getting mixed, and the people that are doing the mixing don't necessarily know the potency of what they're dealing with," said Welke.

So what exactly is Fentanyl?

"It's for chronic pain and Fentanyl can also be used not in the patch form so then that comes from other countries," said Dr. Earl Soileau.

Soileau is board certified in addiction medicine and knows just how deadly Fentanyl can be. He says often people get their hands on the opioid because they know someone who has cancer.

"They have Fentanyl patches, and they don't end up using them or they have a family member whose addicted to pain medications," he said. "They may take their Fentanyl patches, and of course abuse them."

Soileau says while the crisis is widespread, it's easy for people in our area to not notice it until it ends up taking someone we love.

"I  still…..It's still really hard for me to believe," said Amy.

Amy hopes people won't buy drugs off the street, won't become addicted, and won't make the same fatal mistake. She shares Justin's story hoping another family won't experience the same pain.

"It's absolutely the hardest thing that I've ever had to deal with, and I wouldn't want any other family to have to go through this," she said.

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