Drug overdose-related deaths eclipsed murders for the first time in New Orleans last year, prompting the coroner's office to remind the city of its "accelerating public health crisis." Coroner Jeffrey Rouse recorded 211 drug-related deaths in 2016, when there were 175 murders.
Of those 211 drug deaths, 166 involved opiates — compared to 81 in 2015. The synthetic opioid fentanyl also was involved in 48 deaths last year. There were 13 fentanyl-related deaths in 2015, when the city recorded 93 drug-related deaths overall.
On April 20, a panel of doctors and health care experts will discuss the "Truth Behind the Numbers: Why Overdose Deaths Have Surpassed Homicides in Louisiana" at Xavier University. The talk hopes to "change the conversation around addiction as a moral failing, and promote the fact that addiction is a chronic disease."
The panel topic echoes recent advances from public health workers to raise awareness of addiction as an illness, rather than its criminalization and interface with law enforcement.
"Opioid addiction is a medical illness. It's not a character flaw," New Orleans health department medical director Joseph Kanter told reporters last month. "There's excellent treatment for it. Friends, family members and loved ones who suffer from addiction need to know there is a treatment available, and you should help your loved ones go and seek treatment."
The panel includes Michael Cartwright of American Addiction Centers, Dr. Roy Ary with University Medical Center, Xavier College of Pharmacy professors Dr. Jessica Johnson and Dr. Thomas Maestri, and Dr. Howard Westman, Chief Medical Officer at Townsend Addiction Treatment Center. The panel is moderated by Mary Lou McCall.
The panel begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at Xavier's Pharmacy Auditorium (Building 5, 1 Drexel Drive).