East Baton Rouge's deadliest year putting strain on coroner's staff, budget

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BATON ROUGE - This year has been the deadliest on record for East Baton Rouge. 

The parish reports 165 people were killed in homicides as of Dec. 22, 2021, up from 136 in 2020. At least 290 people died from drug overdoses, and that number will likely increase as toxicology tests on recent suspected overdoses are completed.

Coroner Beau Clark said the pace is overwhelming, an unrelenting stream of daily tragedy.

"It's strange for a day to go by where there's not one, which is very sad. When you think about loss of life, that's 165 deaths. That's roughly half the year," Clark said.

The coroner's office is struggling to keep up. 

"From the level of the manpower required to respond and investigate those deaths, even on the financial side too-- it is not cheap to do an autopsy. It's not cheap to have toxicology run an overdose. So anytime you increase the number of homicides and the number of overdoses that require toxicology to be run, then it creates a financial burden," Clark said.

The problem is multi-faceted. 

"You're in the midst of an epidemic that's been going on for 10 years in the opioid epidemic. You're also in the midst of a pandemic with COVID-19 and of course what's going on in the country as far as our criminal justice system goes," he said.

While it's easy to point the blame at elected leaders, Clark said the solution to these problems involves a much broader group. 

"It also involves the community itself, the ability for the community to have some control over these types of behaviors that are taking place. At the end of the day, it's a tremendous loss of life in the community, and it's something I don't think anybody wants to see. And it's time to get ahold of that," he said.

Clark said that reducing the number of overdose deaths will require work on several fronts: getting fentanyl-contaminated drugs off the streets, arresting dealers and getting addicts into treatment. 

"A lot of times people go, 'well it's a drug that killed them.' It wasn't a gun or a knife, but it's still a death at the end of the day. So the whole point of this is to prevent those untimely deaths, and so you have to really address the drug dealer, as much as you have to address the person who's committing murder," he said.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction in the Baton Rouge area, click here to start seeking help.