Officials take proactive approach to combating opioid overdoses

Morgan City is no exception to the nation’s opioid crisis as officials work to combat the issue.

Police Chief James Blair said police have seen an increase in opioid overdoses within the past few years, tracking the number of overdoses with area medical facilities.

Last week, the Morgan City Council authorized the city to sign a contract with a team of attorneys to pursue a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors and determine how much opioid abuse has affected the city.

In the 1990s, opioid manufacturers labeled the drugs as safe to treat chronic pain without scientific evidence, Attorney John Young said during last week’s council meeting. Young is among a group of attorneys representing Louisiana plaintiffs in the opioid litigation.

The St. Mary Parish Council is pursuing an opioid lawsuit, too, and the Patterson City Council is considering participation.

Morgan City police officers have responded to complaints during which naloxone, an antidote to opioids, has been used to treat opioid overdoses and prevent deaths, Blair said.

Roughly two decades ago, doctors began commonly prescribing oxycodone and other opioid medications to individuals to treat chronic pain.

From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I don’t think they were prepared for the amount of abuse that it brought, that it inflicted upon the public,” Blair said.

The police department has taken “a proactive approach” and equipped officers with naloxone “to administer in the event of an overdose and to protect the officers in case they come into contact with Fentanyl-based products or any other harmful substance,” Blair said.

Coming into contact with Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, and other similar substances “has become an ever increasing danger to law enforcement personnel,” Blair said.

Morgan City police officers have received training on how to administer naloxone, which is done through the nostrils.

This past weekend, police encountered an individual who had to receive two doses of naloxone before being transported to the hospital to be treated for an overdose. That individual did survive, Blair said.

Two to three years ago, police acquired a medical drop box for the department’s front lobby to allow people to safely dispose of medicines.

“A great deal of the addictions, the source of the addictions are in our own homes in the medicine cabinets,” Blair said.

Unused or expired medicines can be accessible in homes, and that accessibility can lead to addiction. Many people have used the department’s drop box to get rid of potentially harmful medicines anonymously, he said.

In 2017, Morgan City police collected probably “a couple hundred pounds” of medications through the drop box and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug-take back initiative the department participates in annually, Blair said.

Fire Chief Alvin Cockerham said the fire department also receives some calls to assist emergency medical personnel with opioid overdoses, but not as much as the police department.

The fire department plans to eventually supply firefighters with naloxone to administer, too, Cockerham said.

“It’s out there. It’s gotten worse and worse,” Cockerham said of the opioid epidemic.

Opioid abuse has been a problem for a long time, but more reporting on the issue made people more aware of how deadly opioids can be, Cockerham said.

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