Coroner: Reemergence of powerful opiate is public health crisis

Coroner: Reemergence of powerful opiate is public health crisis

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Orleans Parish coroner released a statement Friday expressing concerns about the increase in accidental overdoses and the reemergence of a drug similar to heroin but much more potent.

Corner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse called the use of heroin and fentanyl "a public health crisis."

"Heroin and fentanyl are two opiate drugs that are commonly abused by injection, and can both result in death, as they both can stop respirations," Rouse said in a news release. "However, fentanyl is a different beast. Injected, it gives a high similar in quality and more intense than heroin. Not only is fentanyl over ten times as potent, it is approximately ten times cheaper to produce."

Rouse said drug suppliers have begun to re-introduce fentanyl into the New Orleans market, sometimes mixing it with heroin.  In 2014, the Orleans Parish Coroner's office recorded 44 accidental deaths due to heroin and one due to fentanyl. In 2015, there 43 deaths due to heroin and 11 due to fentanyl.

Rouse said so far this year, there have been seven suspected opiate overdose deaths. It is not yet clear whether the deaths were due to heroin, fentanyl, or a combination.

He said he is supportive of laws that permit EMS to administer naloxone, an "antidote" to opiate overdoses in the field. But he issued a warning.

"The likely reemergence of fentanyl on the streets is particularly alarming," he said. "Fentanyl is incredibly potent. Users cannot tell if it has been used as an additive to heroin, and they can die so quickly that antidotes may be too late. In light of this killer, I urge the public to seek help for substance abuse before they have to pay me a visit."

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