Coroner seeks action after heroin deaths
BATON ROUGE - Heroin deaths have quadrupled this year compared to last in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to the parish coroner. Now there's a push for tougher penalties on those who deal it.
Coroner Beau Clark said part of his job is identifying the causes of why people die. And if a trend is noticed, another part of his job is collaborating with other agencies to bring an end to unnecessary deaths.
"Certainly when I notice a trend, [it's] a public safety concern," Clark said, "I bring it to light of not only the public but to also partners I collaborate with, including the district attorney, judges and law enforcement."
So far there have been 18 confirmed heroin deaths, and three others awaiting toxicology tests. Clark said that's a big increase from last year, which saw a total of five deaths in the parish.
Clark also said the deaths are appearing across the spectrum.
"We're seeing it in the young, vibrant and healthy. We're seeing it in retirees. Seeing it in the middle class, in the poor," he said.
Clark has two theories on the rise of overdoses. In 2010, the Prescription Monitoring Program cut down on doctor shopping for highly-addictive prescription pills. The same year, mandatory sentencing for distribution of heroin dramatically reduced from life sentences to 5-to-30 years. Clark said these factors caused people to go elsewhere to feed their opiate addiction.
"I don't propose that we go back to life mandatory sentences," Clark said. "But I think the pendulum was on one end, swung to the other end, and we should coast to the middle to eliminate some of these issues."
Clark said he's been meeting with legislators about proposing a bill to stiffen penalties for heroin distribution, but hasn't yet named who would author such a bill.