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City-Parish leaders to address efforts to stem local opioid crisis

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BATON ROUGE - Opioid abuse, a devastating epidemic that the United States continues to battle, is known for its tragic impact on families and entire communities.

Areas that wrestle with widespread opioid abuse may also see increased crime rates, hospitalizations, as well as cases of child abuse and child neglect. 

City leaders in East Baton Rouge Parish (EBR) have partnered with community advocates to combat the epidemic locally, and these efforts were addressed in a public news conference on Tuesday (Feb. 9) morning.

According to a news release from the office of EBR Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, these efforts are necessary due to a rising number of overdose deaths as of January 2021. 

Last year, a total of 245 accidental overdose deaths occurred in EBR, a significant increase from the loss of 126 individuals to such deaths in EBR in 2019. 

Several initiatives that have been crafted to fight the epidemic on a local levelwere unveiled Tuesday morning.

Peer Support Specialist Tonja Myles is behind the launch of three new initiatives that will go into effect at the end of February.

The “Whenever You Are Ready” initiative will provide push cards with information for individuals seeking substance abuse treatment.

“The Ride or Die” initiative will provide transportation to individuals seeking treatment.

The third initiative, called the “Sober Saturdays,” will deploy outreach teams beginning February 27 to directly connect individuals with treatment information and resources. All three initiatives are privately funded with support from parish officials.

“COVID-19 has changed how we should address opioids and other addiction prevention outreach efforts,” said Tonja Myles. “With us working together and adjusting to how we serve those with Opioid Use Disorder, we will save lives.”

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has also worked to increase access to behavioral and mental health resources in East Baton Rouge Parish through initiatives like Healthy BR and ReCast. “Our government cannot do this work alone, so we must work hand in hand with our community and partners as we address this epidemic and save the lives of our fellow residents,” said Mayor Broome.

In an effort to save lives and help disrupt criminal networks in the parish, East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office was awarded a top-performing federal grant in 2018. This continued grant allows the DA’s Office to partner with various partners including LSU’s Social Research & Evaluation Center to analyze data connected to this crisis.

Last summer, the DA’s Office produced the "Criminal Justice Response to the Opioid Crisis in East Baton Rouge Parish" report, recommending life-saving, best practices which include: conducting more thorough investigations at overdose scenes; coordinating with multiple agencies more cohesively; and identifying indicators connected to the abuse and delivery of drugs.

“We want to identify those selling to our most vulnerable population as much as possible so we can get them help before it’s too late,” DA Hillar Moore said. “These are bright people with great families in unfortunate situations. By using the data and uniting our efforts, we can reduce these numbers and give people their lives back.”

The Baton Rouge Police Department is supporting initiatives like “Sober Saturdays” by providing the outreach teams with data that pinpoints locations with high incidents of overdoses. BRPD officers will be among those early responders carrying the group’s push cards.

“The uniquely personal nature of this canvasing effort is an opportunity to provide some of our most vulnerable citizens with support, help, and counseling services that could potentially change their lives,” said Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul. “Based on the data we’re seeing, this is clearly an area of grave concern for us all. And if this effort gives people hope and changes the life of even one individual, this initiative will be a success.”

When law enforcement officers encounter citizens who demonstrate signs that they may be in need of rehabilitation services, the officer will now have helpful information to share with these individuals, their family members, or friends. The BRPD will also be providing the canvasing group with security and other support services during its “Sober Saturdays” events. 

City-Parish leaders and community organizers who presented information related to the fight against opioid addiction on Tuesday included Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Coroner Dr. Beau Clark, District Attorney Hillar Moore, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul, Peer Support Specialist Tonja Myles, and several other notable members of the community.



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