Fentanyl overdoses rival New Orleans homicide numbers

Fentanyl overdoses rival New Orleans homicide numbers

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There's a drug that's becoming more and more prevalent in New Orleans. It's an opiate that's contributing to the death of so many New Orleanians, the rate matches the city's homicide numbers.

"This is a much more potent animal than heroin and it's putting people in the back of my office," Orleans Parish Coroner Jeffrey Rouse, M.D., said.

The drug is an opiate called Fentanyl.

"It costs about $5,000 per kilo, which is multiple times cheaper than a kilo of heroin which can run $75,000 to $80,000 a kilo," Rouse said.

The coroner says Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, providing for a lethal combination.

"As we've clamped down on that prescription drug abuse, we see more and more people turning to illegal use of heroin and unfortunately drugs like fentanyl," Rouse explained.

It's not a drug that's just being used on the streets.

"I see a lot of professionals that have been hooked on opiates, I see soccer moms and even elderly patients," said Dr. Arwen Podesta, who works with addicts. "I've heard some really scary stories where patients that are patients that I'm seeing for alcohol and drug recovery, might say something like, 'oh my God, I got a call from my dealer and he said it was the best thing ever, that people died on it, it was so good.'"

"So far this year, the number of homicides and the number of drug related deaths are running neck-and-neck," Rouse said.

In fact, 72 percent of the people who have died from drugs so far this year in Orleans Parish had Fentanyl in their system. Last year, that number was only 19 percent. It's a deadly epidemic, one that Rouse predicts will claim many more lives.

Fentanyl is prescribed by doctors in some cases for treatment of severe and chronic pain - to bone cancer patients, for example. But the Fentanyl doctors are seeing in overdoses is synthetic and made in labs overseas, specifically, in China.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.