NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Opioid addiction claims the lives of more than 40,000 Americans each year, according to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, and the problem is especially bad on the North Shore. Now, a large coalition has come together to hopefully make a difference, but they’re facing some big challenges.
For nine years, Tina McPherson found herself in opioids’ grip.
“I lost everything. It slipped through my hands,” McPherson said.
Clean for five years now, McPherson is by no means alone. Dozens of addicts died on the North Shore last year, according to Charles Preston, the coroner for St. Tammany Parish.
“We had 88 total [drug overdose deaths] in 2018, and 63 were opiate related,” Preston said.
And in Washington Parish, the numbers are even higher, according to Jason Burt, who works with the Volunteers of America group working to address the deadly epidemic plaguing communities in the area.
"Per capita, Washington Parish is three times worse than anywhere else in the United States," Burt said.
Volunteers of America has started a new effort to tackle opioid abuse on the North Shore through educational outreach and a three-person response team that gets calls from addiction staffers wherever they may be.
“We’ve gotten some from the hospitals where we met someone in the room,” McPherson, who works on the response team, said.
For the past several years, doctors have been doing more to try and limit opioid prescriptions, and although the St. Tammany Parish overdose numbers flattened out last year, Preston said it’s too soon to say if it’s because of these efforts.
“It’s too early to tell,” Preston said. “We need rescue therapy and Narcan.”
Additionally, the crisis response workers said they are in desperate need of more treatment facilities.
“We’re getting to the point of crazy busy,” McPherson said.
As a recovering addict herself, McPherson said she just wants to spread the word that help is available.
“My answer was jail,” McPherson said of her journey to recovery. “I went through drug court, but now I’m able to be a productive member of society.”
And, she said she hopes to help others break their addictions, before it’s too late.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, you can call the Volunteers of America at (800) 844-4925.