Alexis Withers, 18, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her sophomore year at Zachary High School and had a 7.5-pound tumor removed from her uterus. While doctors fought to save her life, she unknowingly developed a serious addiction to painkillers that were prescribed to combat debilitating side effects of surgery and chemotherapy.

Lewis Blanche, a Baton Rouge attorney, nearly died in a meth-lab explosion after battling a hellish addiction that lasted 20 years.

Karl Lawrence, 36, of Lafayette recalls his “brilliant, beautiful” mother who, for 25 years, has been living with bipolar disorder and addiction. A woman who seemingly had it all somehow lost her way – and her son doesn’t know if she’ll ever come back.

April Gomez, a Plaquemine mother, mourns the loss of her 21-year-old son, Bryce. Less than two years ago, he was found dead after a drug overdose. From the outside, this family lived a picture-perfect existence, and nobody would have suspected he was hooked on heroin.

But these are the faces of addiction – and this disease doesn’t discriminate.

According to 2016 data, Louisiana was one of the top six states in the nation for number of opioid prescriptions written.

The team at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, in conjunction with the Baton Rouge Health District, recognized the need for education and awareness and devised a plan to combat the crisis.

Most recently, both organizations partnered with The Advocate for a series called “Prescription for Prevention: Rising Above Opioids” to shed light on the epidemic by sharing stories of four local families battling addiction.

The truth is sobering – but this project has sparked an overwhelming response and public dialogue, further igniting a passion to understand the problem and seek new solutions.

“The ‘Prescription for Prevention: Rising Above Opioids’ campaign has shown what true collaboration can do to rally a community and make a path toward change,” says Brice Mohundro, clinical pharmacist for Blue Cross and chair of the Health District Opioid Task Force. “We heard countless stories about how each person’s experience touched readers, and the information was easy to understand and use to have more productive conversations about pain care. Further, this campaign played a significant role in making this year’s Drug Take Back Day event a record-breaking success.”

 On April 27, several hospitals, clinics, agencies and law enforcement officials promoted the safe disposal of prescription drugs by urging people to turn in their unused medication at the Baton Rouge Police Department Headquarters. More than 1,000 pounds of drugs were collected from 250 visitors at this year’s event.

 John Spain, chair of the Baton Rouge Health District, echoes Mohundro’s sentiment and stresses the importance of raising awareness to prevent unnecessary deaths.

“No community or its citizens are immune from the opioid crisis,” he says. “This crisis impacts our friends, family, schools, businesses and hospitals every day. The Baton Rouge Health District and its member hospitals know that we must educate and inform our citizens about the dangers of this epidemic and are proud to have been a part of sponsoring The Advocate's opioid series.”

Visit www.theadvocate.com to read the "Prescription for Prevention" series in its entirety.