East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark gave a group of parents and teachers a sobering talk Saturday on the heroin and synthetic marijuana epidemics that he says have exploded in the capital region the past few years.
Speaking at the third annual I Care symposium, an East Baton Rouge schools program geared toward teen alcohol, drug and violence prevention, Clark noted that 41 people died from heroin overdoses last year, up from five deaths three years earlier.
More than 300 people attended the event, with Clark giving separate presentations to parents and educators attending the symposium on what he described as Louisiana’s heroin epidemic.
He said a “perfect storm” of circumstances has led to the recent spate of heroin deaths and widespread use of the narcotic, Clark said.
He said reduced sentences for drug distribution — Louisiana used to mandate life in prison for distributing heroin — and a medical-insurance complex that incentivizes opiate prescriptions has driven the surge in the state.
“Heroin addicts today look like everyone in this room, including college students, soccer moms and people that have no money at all,” the coroner told about 25 parents and teens attending a morning session at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Bree Saghy, who is in rehab for heroin addiction at Reality House, a Baton Rouge-based treatment center for women and their children, attended Clark’s lecture on the heroin epidemic.
Now two months sober, Saghy said she left her boyfriend, who sold drugs in Miami, in the middle of the night more than a year ago.
She had recently found out she was pregnant and left her 3-year-old with her mother before going to rehab.
Her boyfriend was involved with “scary people,” Saghy said, and a crop of felony charges and her new pregnancy drove her to leave.
Now, she said, she hopes to stay drug free.
Clark’s presentation painted stark consequences for those who don’t.
Former Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff, another speaker at the symposium, said crack cocaine was the main drug problem for the community during his time as chief, from 2004-2010. He said he saw little heroin use during that period.
He described the heroin problem as a national crisis that doesn’t discriminate.
“You can think of any family,” LeDuff said.
“Rich, poor, black, white, it doesn’t matter.”