Capital area healthcare professionals released a nine-point plan Wednesday to address the opioid epidemic locally, a plan they hope will save lives.
The "Community-Wide Response Plan to the Opioid Epidemic" was drawn up by healthcare professionals, addiction specialists and policy makers, dozens of whom attended a Wednesday summit on the issue. Their plan lists pages of best practices and desired improvements to the local mental health landscape, though no idea is discussed at much length or depth. Summit participants will reconvene in March to discuss their progress.
The plan calls for stricter prescribing practices and more community resources, along with strategies Capital Area Human Services staff identified as potentially controversial.
Those ideas include making anti-overdose medicine more available. Such drugs, like Narcan, should be as prevalent among drug users as EpiPens are among people with serious allergies, said Jan Laughinghouse, CAHS’s addiction recovery services program director.
Longtime medical professionals may have been taught that total abstinence was the only way to treat addiction, Laughinghouse said, but it is naïve to think all drug users will be able to quit their habit at the drop of a hat.
Laughinghouse compared it to teaching adolescents about safe sex. Just as unwed couples are still likely to have sex, she said, some drug users will relapse or continue to use and authorities should find ways to keep them safer. Furthermore, such resources will put addicts in touch with people who can help when they’re ready to get clean, Laughinghouse continued.
“When you know better, you do better,” she said.
However, most of the proposals are less potentially divisive.
All the work will rely on convincing the public that addiction is born of chronic brain disease that is manageable using evidence-based treatment, the plan states.
Ideas include limiting the number of opiate pills that can be prescribed at once, helping all doctors get more comfortable talking to patients about mental health, addiction and suicide and working to expand Medicaid coverage to drugs like Methadone, often used to treat opiate addiction.
Other strategies include examining other pain management techniques and paying specific attention to women who may become pregnant.
CAHS Prevention Division Director Vivian Gettys noted that the state has seen a four-fold increase in the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndromes in recent years.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome stressed that criminal justice officials need to work to make sure addicts transition into care when they are released from jail. Elsewhere, advocates called for steeper penalties for drug dealers but encouraged authorities to consider treatment programs instead of jail for some drug users.
Coroner Beau Clark said one troubling trend is the growing preponderance of fentanyl. He said abuse of the drug is trending the way heroin did a few years ago, just a couple years behind.
Clark recalled responding to a fatal overdose in which family the deceased assumed the man, a known cocaine user, had died of an overdose of that drug. However, lab tests showed he only had fentanyl in his system, Clark said.
“Fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous opioid,” the coroner said.
Clark said 80 people have died in of drug overdoses in East Baton Rouge Parish so far this year, with more cases expected pending results of toxicology tests.
While most of the report deals specifically with opiate prescription and addiction recovery, CAHS Executive Director Jan Kasofsky said East Baton Rouge must also invest in the types of services needed by anyone trying to get back on their feet, such as reliable public transportation and low-income housing.
“I think as a community we need to wrap these around people and give them a hand,” she said.