A new prescription drug take-back box was installed at the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters this week as part of an initiative by the state attorney general to “fight back” against the opioid epidemic.
The announcement, which came at a Tuesday morning news conference, is part of an initiative to place a box in every Louisiana parish by state Attorney General Jeff Landry, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigations.
The box is the third in East Baton Rouge Parish, following previous installations at the Zachary and Southern University police departments, Landry said Tuesday.
Landry encouraged residents to do a “fall cleaning” of medicine cabinets and drop any unneeded prescription drugs in the box, which is in the lobby of the Baton Rouge Police Headquarters on Airline Highway.
“The drugs that are in those medicine cabinets that they’re not using can absolutely cause someone to become addicted, and that’s because someone will wander into that cabinet: a teenager, a college student, even an adult wanting to experiment with opioids,” Landry said.
Interim Baton Rouge Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said the box is in a “safe, secure” location and will be emptied at least weekly by officers, who will then destroy the drugs. The box will be available year-round.
Similar boxes are available in Assumption, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. James and Tangipahoa parishes. For a full list of boxes, visit endtheepidemicla.org.
Landry said there are 118 prescriptions written per 100 people in Louisiana. It’s “no secret” the nationwide opioid epidemic has affected Louisiana, he said.
During the news conference, Landry also said he thinks Gov. John Bel Edwards' expansion of Medicaid has compounded the opioid problem by doubling the number of prescription drugs covered under the program.
On his first day in office in January 2016, Edwards signed Medicaid expansion into law, making Louisiana the 31st state in the nation to do so.The move extended the publicly funded coverage to any adult with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
Medicaid expansion became possible under the Affordable Care Act, signed into law under President Barack Obama, which allowed states to expand sign-up criteria making Medicaid available to many people who previously made too much money to qualify but earned too little to buy adequate insurance on the private market.
Since Louisiana expanded Medicaid, 441,000 more people in the state have enrolled and are receiving health care coverage. The Louisiana Department of Health says Medicaid expansion has helped more than 13,000 people receive substance abuse treatment.
Prior to the expansion, Landry said, Medicaid covered about 500,000 prescriptions compared to the roughly 900,000 prescriptions covered today.
“We already know that we’re having an epidemic, so when we put a program in place that about doubles the amount of free prescriptions available to people, think about that. That’s literally like putting drugs on the street for free,” Landry said.
Health Chief of Staff Andrew Tuozzolo said "nothing could be further from the truth" in response to Landry's suggestions that Medicaid expansion is part of the problem.
"Opioid prescription limits implemented by the Louisiana Department of Health earlier this year have been successful in decreasing the number of opioid pills prescribed by more than 40 percent year-over-year for first time users," Tuozzolo said.
Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.