NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As deaths from opioid drugs outpace homicides in New Orleans, a local agency is in a position to assist more people struggling with addiction.
"This is not something that is just going to go away on a wish or a whim, it requires aggressive interventions by people who understand the disease of addiction and who are capable of working with that very difficult population," said Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, executive director and medical director of the Metropolitan Human Services District.
MHSD recently received a $3 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide services to reduce opioid-related deaths.
"We have capacity to see people in our clinics," Head-Dunham said.
It is known fact that many people get hooked on prescription pain killers and then turn to heroin or fentanyl in search of the same high once they can no longer get the prescription medication.
MSHD will be able to provide medication-assisted treatment services to the public, including the uninsured and the indigent, because of the three year grant.
"Some people come in and they are at imminent risk of withdrawal, and withdrawal can be deadly depending upon the substances that they have been using," Head-Dunham said.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control said Louisiana was among 19 states with significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths.
"One might be either through intravenous or intra-muscular through a needle or through an auto-injector sort of like an Epi-pen," said William Robinson, a public health professional in the LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health, as he showed different forms of the opioid antidote Naloxone, also known as Narcan.
He is thrilled that addicts and their families and close friends can now purchase the rescue drug without a prescription in this area.
"It can really save a life by getting the person to breathe again," said Robinson.
But even after Naloxone has been administered, it's important to remember that the person still needs to get to an emergency room.
"Clearly the first and most important thing to do is respond and call 911 and look for emergency medical assistance," Robinson stated.
He even trains first responders on the Gulf Coast on administering Naloxone.
"Since December, we've trained about a thousand officers, and during that time I know that multiple lives have been saved through the use of that drug."
As for Dr. Head-Dunham, she said they hope to keep many more people from getting to the overdose stage, including the young.
"For the youth who primarily are using marijuana, but we've also have seen that uptick in opioid use - pills in particular - by kids, and deaths to young people as a result," she said.
Walk-ins are allowed at the clinics operated by MHSD. For appointments or other information the number to call is (504) 568-3130.