SPECIAL REPORT: Fighting the opioid crisis in SWLA

SPECIAL REPORT: Fighting the opioid crisis in SWLA
(Source: Maranda Whittington/KPLC)

SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - Monday night 7News began its series on the opioid crisis here in Southwest Louisiana with a mother who lost her son to the deadly drug Fentanyl.

It's clear that these drugs are here in our area, but what's being done to combat the problem.

"Calcasieu Parish is in the middle of two big cities, New Orleans and Houston," said Calcasieu Parish Sheriff, Tony Mancuso. "We have major waterways, which give access. We have a major interstate with a lot of commerce, so I absolutely think we have to stay on top of it so that we don't lose a hold and have an epidemic."

Calcasieu Parish is no stranger when it comes to drugs.

"Marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, those are probably our three major issues that we deal with on a daily basis," said Mancuso.

While the opioid crisis is having a stronger hold on other parts of the United States, Mancuso says opioids are becoming an issue.

"We have not seen it in the quantities or that masses that we've seen in other parts of the country, we do see it here," he said.

According to the Calcasieu Parish Coroner's Office last year our parish saw 24 drug overdose deaths. While the numbers typically stay below 30, back in 2006 and 2007 the number of drug overdose deaths nearly doubled.

The cause—pain management clinics in Texas.

"We actually sent undercover people into Orange and Beaumont, Texas in 2006 and 2007," said Calcasieu Parish District Attorney, John DeRosier.

During that time many from Calcasieu Parish were heading over to Texas to get opioids from pain management clinics.

DeRosier says law enforcement in Louisiana and Texas combined forces for over a year to try to combat this ever-growing problem.

"Let's pass laws that cover everybody in Texas, and nuke the building and then go in through what's left of the front door and pick up the survivors," he said. "That's how you're going to have to fight this problem and we did that."

As legislation in both states were signed, the deaths started to drop, but now that opioids are making a return what's being done now?

"It's what we're not doing," said DeRosier. "We're not remedying the problem. Identifying the problem is very easy, we know what the problem is, we have too many people using strong drugs. The drug courts, and the DWI courts, and the mental health courts are the way to make that happen."

DeRosier believes the state isn't putting enough money into those specialty courts, and overall not enough is being done.

"I don't think the state, nor do I think the federal government is doing enough to address this problem," he said. "You hear more and more talk about it but not enough is happening."

DeRosier says a Louisiana bill is in the works now that would create limitations for those prescribing opioids.
Parishes are teaming up with lawyers to fight the crisis through litigation. Calcasieu Parish and the sheriff's office do have lawyers representing them.

Attorney Michael Stag along with a group of other attorneys are representing Jeff Davis Parish and Beauregard Parish.

"Our lawsuit is focused on the drug companies who manufacture the products and the distributors," said Stag.

The ultimate goal is retrieving back taxpayer money used to fight the problem.

"Things like their cost related to increase police enforcement, increasing in jails, health care costs... all those are costs that can be recoverable," said Stag.

DeRosier is leery of this because opioids can be a benefit to those who don't abuse them.

"I've seen people with mechanical knee injuries, back injuries who need some kind of pain management through chemicals, and I've seen the benefit to be derived from opioids,

There's no clear answer or solution to fixing this widespread problem, but it's something everyone deeply involved with isn't willing to give up on.

"I think we're fighting it from every angle that we can possibly fight it from, and we're just not going to give up," said Mancuso. "Regardless we're going to keep fighting the fight."

The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office has been using Narcan, an antidote used in treating opioid overdoses. In the last three years, the Combined Anti-Drug Team saved 50 people who overdosed using Narcan.

Stag says it could take years for the litigation to be complete.  He says most of the cases are being transferred to a federal judge in Ohio, and the cases there will be consolidated and handled in one court.

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