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Hillar Moore III, at lectern, gives statistics and talks about the program as, from left background, EBRP Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and BRPD Chief Murphy Paul wait to speak as the District Attorney's office hosted its annual press conference discussing domestic violence numbers and initiatives over the past year Thursday Jan. 10, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Hillar Moore III, EBRP Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and BRPD Chief Murphy Paul talked about the 2018 report and introduced new efforts to combat domestic violence.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office is starting work on a new grant aimed at reducing the death toll from the nation's opioid epidemic, which hasn't spared the Baton Rouge area of both fatal overdoses and drug related homicides. 

The grant for about $360,000 was awarded in October and extends through September 2020. 

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the ultimate goal is to get drugs off the streets without throwing addicts in jail — "making better cases against dealers and connecting users with services."

In the grant application, officials wrote that both homicide and opioid death rates have risen sharply in recent years.

"However, the public health aspects of the opioid and related violent crime problem have reached current levels at a time when our jurisdiction has been unable to keep up with evidence based and data driven solutions to this particular problem," they wrote.

The application notes that overdose deaths in the parish more than doubled from 37 in 2010 to 83 in 2016. Homicides overall also climbed to unprecedented levels in 2017 accompanied by high rates of violent crime as a whole.

The grant will help law enforcement authorities do a more effective job of coordinating criminal investigations and gathering covert intelligence, building better cases to bring to court for prosecution, according to the application.

Jon Daily, grants manager for Moore's office, said the first step is getting local law enforcement agencies to start collecting and reporting uniform data when responding to overdoses and instances of drug related violent crime. That means conducting more thorough investigations — including treating fatal overdose scenes the same as homicide scenes.

Officials are looking to hire a coordinator for the project and are partnering with LSU researchers and other agencies. Part of the process will involve determing where and how much data surrounding opioid use can be obtained and studied. That data ultimately compiled into network analysis maps that show where and how drugs are being distributed. 

Moore noted that Louisiana's "good Samaritan" law — which gives people immunity from prosecution when they call police to report an overdose — makes his job more difficult in part because it limits the ability of responding officers to interview people present.

But officials said the grant also involves raising awareness of the law to encourage members of the public to call 911 when they believe someone's life is at risk.

He also said his goal is not to build more cases around the contrasting statute that allows second-degree murder charges against people who supply the drugs that lead to a fatal overdose.

The practice has become more common in recent years and has been met with criticism in certain cases where it appears to target fellow drug users who happened to conduct the latest transaction, rather than higher level dealers involved in organized drug distribution networks.

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.