In 2009, Cayce Badeaux McDaniel had just finished college at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and was living what people would consider a normal life. Things were going fine.
It all changed when she broke her neck in a car wreck — an injury that would send her into a spiral of addiction to painkillers.
"Before I even knew it, I was buying it off the street. I was using benzos, and then I used alcohol – basically anything that would make me feel different than I did," McDaniel said.
For the next five years it was a cycle of drugs, car accidents, arrests.
She describes the time as: "Pain and sorrow and disappointment after disappointment of my family and of everybody around me who truly loved me."
Today, she's in recovery and serves as an addiction counselor herself.
But McDaniel's addiction story is a familiar one in Louisiana, a state that has been hit particularly hard by a national opioid crisis that health leaders say is largely driven by the abuse of prescription painkillers.
Louisiana has the seventh-highest opioid pain reliever-prescribing rate in the country, and the drug overdose rate outpaces the national average.
"We've got so many people dying because of drug use," said Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, executive and medical director of the Metropolitan Human Services District. "It is absolutely an epidemic."
A new task force, formally called the Commission on Preventing Opioid Abuse, is working to come up with a set of recommendations for short-term and long-term efforts that can be made to address prescription opioid and heroin abuse and addiction in Louisiana. The 38-member task force, created during the legislative session earlier this year, includes representatives from the medical, pharmaceutical, insurance and law enforcement communities, among others.
"It's a significant issue and it's something that needs to be addressed," said state Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat who has emerged as a key voice in addressing opioid issues in the Legislature. "We are losing too many lives to opioid abuse."
Head-Dunham said that drug usage tends to go through cycles. Whereas a decade ago methamphetamine was considered an epidemic, the cycle has turned to opioids.
"This is where we are," she said.
She said that there is a common thread for many people suffering from opioid addiction: Often it begins with pain medications for legitimate ailments.
When users aren't able to get more prescriptions for the painkillers that they crave, they turn to illicit drugs like heroin or get their pills illicitly.
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At the same time, opioid addicts also build tolerance to the drugs and then increase their usage. It escalates to the point where they go to deadly limits to satisfy their cravings and stave off withdrawal symptoms.
"It's a vicious cycle that the person gets into," Head-Dunham said.
The state Legislature has adopted laws that, among other things, have made naloxone, a nasal spray that can be used to treat opioid overdose in emergency situations, easier to obtain. The state also has an aggressive Prescription Monitoring Program. But leaders say the problem continues to plague the state, with overdoses of heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone and other opioids all too common.
"There's still so much more to do," Moreno said.
The federal government has invested more than $2 million over the past year to aid Louisiana in the fight against opioid abuse.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who took office in January, has ramped up the state's nearly dormant Drug Policy Board as well.
Edwards was one of 46 governors earlier this year to sign the National Governors Association's compact to increase efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. The agreement suggests that states work to reduce inappropriate prescribing, raise awareness and increase treatment options.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that in 2012 there were more opioid prescriptions than there were people in Louisiana, with 118 prescriptions for every 100 people.
The CDC has called the rise in prescription opioid and heroin-related deaths "alarming," and encouraged states to address the "emerging threat to public health and safety."
The Louisiana Department of Health also has been working to spread awareness of treatment and recovery options. LDH offers assistance through the state's local Human Services Districts.
"It's never too late," said Dr. James Hussey, assistant secretary of LDH's Office of Behavioral Health.
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For McDaniel, it was her son, Christian, who finally convinced her that she needed to seek help.
"I knew that I needed to get sober," she said. "I had this child and I knew that everybody would say, 'If you just loved your child enough, you would stop using.' I would look at my child and say, 'But I do love him,' I just could not stop using."
She entered detox when her son was 10-months old, then entered a residential treatment program.
"It was the beginning of a new way of life for me," she said.
Candace Blood, the director of clinical services at Longleaf Hospital in Pineville and a friend of McDaniel, will soon mark 12 years of sobriety.
"I never really was able to grasp what freedom meant," Blood said. "I just love that's what I've been given in my recovery: Freedom. Freedom from my addictions. Freedom from the worries and the pain. Freedom from worrying about what everyone thinks about who I was or what I did. Freedom from mistakes that I made. Just freedom to move forward and love life and appreciate how beautiful it is."