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We have all seen it: a valid prescription becomes abuse, abuse becomes addiction, and addiction turns into illegal activity or death. From urban metropolises to rural towns and affluent areas to poorer neighborhoods, no community is immune to the opioid abuse epidemic.
Every day, Americans lose 120 family members and friends to an overdose – more than half by prescription drugs or heroin. Eighty percent of new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers, causing the rate of heroin overdose deaths to nearly quadruple in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses now surpass automobile accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 64.
Our State has unfortunately seen death by drug overdose triple since 1999, and we are now in the top ten states for drug overdose death rates – including approximately 675 Louisiana residents dying from prescription overdoses each year. Louisiana is also one of eight states to have more opioid prescriptions than residents. And in New Orleans, overdose deaths are outpacing homicides.
As our State’s chief legal officer, I am committed to making Louisiana safer and protecting the well-being of our people. Law enforcement has always been on the frontline of drug crises, and tackling opioid abuse is a crucial piece to solving this public safety problem. That is why the Louisiana Department of Justice conducts community outreach and citizen education stressing responsibility to help form a barrier between opioid use and opioid abuse.
Our office is coordinating drug take-back events that offer convenient ways to dispose unneeded or expired prescriptions. We are finalizing a partnership with the Louisiana Ambulance Alliance to create a new educational fund aimed at reducing opioid misuse, abuse, and overdose. And we plan to work with the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to help improve the State’s Prescription Monitoring Program in an effort to curb “doctor-shopping.”
Additionally, our office is a member of the Louisiana Commission on Preventing Opioid Abuse which was created in the 2016 Regular Legislative Session to address opioid and heroin abuse, addiction, and overdose. This Commission is to coordinate a statewide response and comprehensive strategy to address this public health crisis.
In the Spring, I joined 36 Attorneys General from across the country in urging the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to adopt guidelines for prescribing opioids in cases of chronic pain. They have since followed our recommendation, and prescribers now have assistance in place to assure that these opioids are used as originally intended – to help treat severe, chronic pain. I will continue to advocate for measures that give doctors the tools they need to make smart and safe prescription decisions.
Furthermore, I support efforts by manufacturers to make misuse of medications more difficult. Because many overdoses are attributed in some way to addicts seeking to max out their high – new technology helps make pain pills much harder to snort, inject, or inhale. These new “abuse-deterrent opioids” have been developed to work effectively when taken correctly but lose effectiveness when crushed or dissolved. While not quite the magic bullet, this is a very helpful tool in the arsenal.
Opioid abuse has taken the lives of too many of our children, parents, neighbors, and co-workers. As your Attorney General, I am committed to doing all that I legally can to help save Louisiana lives. Through public and private initiatives, we can combat this epidemic.