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EBR experiencing disturbing increase in murder, death rate

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly categorized the use of the grant.

BATON ROUGE - East Baton Rouge Parish is on pace to break records this year for overdose, homicide and COVID deaths. A local foundation is providing the coroner's office a grant to help with some of the costs.

In 2020, the parish saw 242 overdose deaths, 136 homicides, and 548 COVID deaths. This year is expected to exceed that in all three categories.

"In 2021, we're currently at 234 overdoses, very near the total number of last year. I foresee us surpassing our 2020 record, and I'll remind you that not only is that the record of overdoses, it was the highest on record for East Baton Rouge Parish in the history," Coroner Beau Clark said.

As of Oct. 14, the parish also has had 129 homicides and 510 COVID deaths.

The office added staff to cover the workload, and the Pennington Foundation has offered a $75,000 grant to assist with personnel costs.

The mayor's office introduced the grant acceptance at the Metro Council meeting Wednesday. Some coroner's office accounting and funding functions are handled through city-parish government even though the coroner's is a separate entity and the coroner is elected by voters.

Clark said that when local deaths from COVID began more than a year ago, the office was also dealing with high numbers of deaths from both opioids and homicide.

Opioid deaths are still particularly alarming.

Clark said fentanyl has been seen in almost every overdose, including those of people who typically did not abuse opioids. The drug is coming from Mexico and is being sold to people who aren't expecting it.

"You're seeing individuals that are going to purchase heroin or purchase pills or even cocaine. And they're being sold either those drugs laced with fentanyl or, some cases, just fentanyl. And they're having massive overdose deaths as a result," Clark said.

It's a dramatic change from less than a decade ago. In 2012, the parish saw only 28 overdose deaths.

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