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GREAT HEALTH DIVIDE: Overdose deaths surge in Mississippi Delta states, Louisiana at top of list

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 7:43 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 30, 2021 at 4:42 AM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Healthcare professionals and law enforcement agencies are responding to more overdoses — many deadly.

According to the CDC and top medical experts, the reason behind the surge may be the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would say over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States and about half of those are related to synthetic opioids, not prescription opioids,” Dr. Paul Christo, Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.

“A lot of that is due to the odd emotional upheaval that’s occurred due to COVID-19 and the economic hardship,” he said.

Dr. Christo said the pandemic forced people into isolation, making it easier for substance abuse to happen.

“A lot of coping strategies have been disrupted,” he said.

An analysis by the CDC of predicted overdoses deaths from August 2019 to August 2020 showed all Mississippi Delta States increasing numbers. Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois reported percent increases higher than the national average of 26.8%.

Data from the CDC shows most states in the Mississippi Delta Region are seeing drug overdose...
Data from the CDC shows most states in the Mississippi Delta Region are seeing drug overdose numbers exceed the national average.(CDC)

According to the provisional numbers, Louisiana could see an overdose increase of over 50%. That’s the highest among all 50 states.

KALB reached out to Louisiana law enforcement agencies that are encountering more drugs.

Alexandria Interim Police Chief Ronney Howard said his department is seeing an increase in overdoses. He notes fentanyl as a root cause.

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Police officers are not the only ones walking the streets to keep people safe. The Central Louisiana Human Services District (CLHSD) is sending out trained mental health professionals to minority and rural communities to increase their access to health services.

“It is more difficult for people that are in outlying communities to get help,” Cayce McDaniel, Deputy Director of Behavioral Health at CLHSD, said. “The stigma involved in getting help and walking into the front of a building also makes it difficult.”

McDaniel said the pandemic strained people in rural communities and left some unable to get access to healthcare.

“One of the things that is difficult in accessing treatment is transportation,” she said.

But, CLHSD may have found a four-wheeled solution. The agency drives a van into outlining companies to pass out Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, locked prescription boxes and other preventive measures to reduce overdoses.

“We can go into the emergency rooms, we can go into the jails, we can go into the community,” Dominique Teasley, Social Services Counselor, said. “We’re giving out free Narcan and we’re giving out Narcan, education to groups and organizations that want it.”

Teasley is also a CIT with the mobile crisis team and travels into the community to prevent overdoses from turning deadly.

“They’re not being judged. Everything is confidential,” he said.

He also has tough conversations with community members who may know someone abusing drugs and offers them Narcan.

“Hey, here’s some Narcan. If you got a buddy who’s using, who may overdose, keep this on hand because you may be able to save their life,” he said.

He says their approach resonates with the people they encounter.

“I think one of the biggest things is just someone who looks like them, being able to come into the community who they trust.”

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