Anthony Pierre, a recovering opioid addict who has been clean for more than a year, pleaded Thursday night for people who have unused and unneeded prescription pills in their homes to get rid of them because of how easily they can make others spiral into addiction.

Pierre was one of many who spoke at a "fighting the opioid abuse epidemic" town hall that Capital Area Human Services hosted at BREC's headquarters. Around 60 people attended. A panel, which included Pierre, discussed the high rates of opioid usage in Louisiana, where there are more opioid prescriptions than there are residents.

Pierre warned people who have medicine cabinets stocked with pills from past injuries or accidents that those pills can be a temptation not only for people who are addicted but are trying to get clean, but also for anyone else who sees them.

Pierre recounted his journey toward becoming sober, a status he has been able to claim for 388 days. He described smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in high school and how he eventually started stealing prescription pain pills from his diabetic father.

Pierre finally sought treatment and is living in a Baton Rouge sober home for recovering addicts. But prescription pills are still a temptation. He was in a car wreck not long ago and said a doctor instantly prescribed him two opiates without asking about his history.

Dr. Beau Clark, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner, acknowledged the medical field is often too quick to turn to opioids to manage pain.

"Do we have to say, pain equals Lortab?" Clark said. "Maybe we say, I'm really sorry you're hurting but in a few days, you're going to feel better anyway."

Providers also weighed the pros and cons of different types of treatment — both programs that require abstaining from a drug and other programs where addicts use methadone and Suboxone to curb cravings for heroin and other opiates.

David Laxton, the clinic director for the Baton Rouge Comprehensive Treatment Center, said using methadone and Suboxone can make addicts more involved in their rehabilitation because they are not so preoccupied with the idea of getting high. He also said those who go to his clinic, which is the only one in Baton Rouge where addicts get methadone, also go to counseling and receive other services to treat the psychological component of their addiction.

An audience member asked if using methadone and Suboxone in place of heroin was not simply substituting one drug for another without addressing the underlying problem. Laxton framed it as the difference between someone getting heroin on the street versus someone who receives pain pills from a doctor for a valid reason.

"At that point, it's a medication," he said.

Though Capital Area Human Services works purely on abstinence-based programs, Executive Director Jan Kasofsky said she's closely watching the medication-based services and would consider moving toward the model in the future.

One issue that has become more prevalent is that heroin on the streets is not necessarily even heroin anymore, panelists said. Rebecca Nugent, chemistry manager for the Louisiana State Police Crime lab, said her lab is frequently discovering fentanyl mixed with heroin and sometimes even entirely in the place of heroin despite fentanyl being far more potent.

"I really believe some of the dealers have no idea of the potency of what they're selling either," she said.


Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​