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Overdose calls, deaths on track to break another record in East Baton Rouge

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BATON ROUGE - The capital city is on track to break another record, and it's not a good one. Baton Rouge is following the national trend of skyrocketing overdose deaths, and emergency responders say it's taxing on the whole system.

"If this trend continues, it's going to be difficult to handle all these calls in a timely manner," said Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Mike Chustz.

EMS says overdose calls are up from last year, and the past few hours have been eye-opening. Chustz says something happened Thursday that he can't recall ever happening before.

"I kept hearing overdose calls getting dispatched, and at one point yesterday, before noon, we had five ambulances on five separate overdose calls. I don't think I've ever seen that at one time," he said.

EMS is responding to the trend. In the 36 hours from Thursday to Friday this week, they went on 19 OD calls.

"I don't understand it. These people are on the verge of death," Chustz said.

Sometimes, twice on the same day.

"Occasionally, we'll see the same overdose victim twice in one day," Chustz said. "They take Narcan, they go to the hospital and overdose again. It's ridiculous!"

Some patients are revived with Narcan and transported to the emergency room, taxing another part of the healthcare system. Chustz says the victims are often homeless and do not have health insurance.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark says the overdose numbers are overwhelming and predicts it will be another record year for overdose-related deaths.

"It's absolutely horrible. Hopefully, they're getting there in time to save these people," Clark said.

Not everyone has an opportunity to call for help. In the last decade, the number of overdose-related deaths has skyrocketed. According to the coroner's office, there were 28 confirmed overdose deaths in 2012. The overdose death numbers have increased nearly every year since.

In 2021, there were 311 overdose-related deaths. As of July 29, 2022, there have been 169 just this year. Dr. Clark says labs are currently overwhelmed and two months behind in processing their data, meaning that number is actually greater.

Chustz says they're seeing a lot of patients overdosing on a combination of fentanyl and heroin. It can also be mixed with methamphetamine. EMS has been carrying Narcan for a long time, which can save lives if someone is around to call for help.

"Narcan isn't going to save you if there's no one there to give it to you," Chustz said.

Last week, the local volunteer group Keep Tiger Town Beautiful posted a photo of a collection of needles picked up during one of their ventures. It's part of the grim picture EMS responds to daily.

"A lot of them we'll see, and we'll see a month later — they just got out of treatment," Chustz said.

EMS is certainly worried about it, considering they are just a small piece of the big picture that's happening nationwide. Last year, there were about 107,000 overdose-related deaths around the country.


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