NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The heroin epidemic that's sweeping across the country is being felt here at home, and overdose deaths are rising at an alarming rate.
"Several years ago, they actually doubled from about 35 to 70, and then last year, we were at 80. This year, we're on pace for about 80 again," said Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich.
Cvitanovich said what makes last year and this year different is the amount of heroin overdose deaths that are related to fentanyl.
"A couple of years ago, we had seven deaths. This past year, in 2015, we had 16, and this year, we're on pace for the mid-30s," he said.
Drug dealers are now cutting heroin with fentanyl, and in some cases, using pure fentanyl to pass off as heroin.
"It's much more potent than heroin, and the number one side effect is it makes you stop breathing. We're getting more and more accidental deaths from heroin and heroin-related products," Cvitanovich said.
In New Orleans, 36 percent of all heroin overdose deaths so far this year were related to fentanyl. Of the 81 people who died, 29 of them involved the synthetic drug.
"You get a dose that is super potent or not what you're expecting to buy. One dose is fatal," Cvitanovich said.
It's believed that overdose deaths would be much higher if it wasn't for heroin antidote Narcan, which is now available over the counter without a prescription. Cvitanovich believes Narcan is used to save lives every day. Overdoses that involve fentanyl could be different.
"Since fentanyl is a super opioid, it sometimes requires more than one injection of the Narcan," said Dr. Peter DeBlieux.
There's a serious concern about how much higher the death toll will rise because of the heroin-fentanyl mixture. Parish leaders are hoping that educating the public about the deadly combination will help.