Scoot Mayoral candidates need to address new #1 killer in New Orleans

March 28, 2017 - 11:20 am

New Orleans has earned the reputation of a city where you might be shot; and that has led to talk about a drop in tourism, the lifeblood of the city.  But new statistics now show that the #1 cause of death in New Orleans is not murder – it’s drug overdoses.

Last year, the number of deaths from drug overdoses shot up to 211 from 92 in the previous year.  The fact that there were more accidental drug overdoses than homicides in New Orleans is a shocking reminder of the growing health crisis of opiate abuse in America.

The threat of being shot in New Orleans remains a greater fear than dying from a drug overdose for the obvious reason that death from a drug overdose is more the result of a decision made by the individual.  Individuals do make the decision to use weapons to kill others, but there’s a sense that we each have more control over the decision to take drugs than someone else’s decision to cause harm with a weapon.

The nationwide statistics showing the sharp increase in opiate overdoses feeds the national political debate over what the government can do to stop death from opiates.  The word opiate triggers many to think primarily about the abuse of prescription medications, but it equally refers to heroin and the high-powered heroin substitute fentanyl.

Predictably, politicians are part of the debate over what the government can do to stop the rise in opiate overdoses and whenever politicians become involved the actual source of the problem becomes shrouded in attempts to identify something tangible to blame.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been pressured to establish stricter rules concerning the distribution of prescribed pain medications to the point where many who legitimately need pain meds to manage their chronic pain face great difficulties in obtaining their prescribed meds.

Retail outlets in higher crime areas are severely limited in their monthly allotment of pain medications to reduce the possibility of the pharmacies being robbed and vast amounts of pills end up on the street.  For many, this action makes it nearly impossible to fill their legitimate prescriptions.

One of the continuing themes on my afternoon talk show on WWL is the death of personal responsibility, which is an integral part of so many of the daily issues discussed.  When politicians and the FDA change rules in an effort of protect people, they are blaming the pills – the drugs themselves – and not the individuals that choose to take more than prescribed.  But this, too, falls in line with the tendency of politicians to blame something tangible rather than the human behavior, which is the true source of the problem.

New Orleans Coroner Jeffery Rouse called drug-related deaths a “public health crisis” and called “upon all those who seek to lead this city as our next mayor to heed these grim statistics and to articulate their plan to stem this growing tide of preventable deaths.”

I applaud the coroner for calling on those who want to be our next mayor to announce their plan for dealing with the problem of opiate overdoses in New Orleans, but I wonder which one will have the courage to address the issue of human behavior instead of the convenient strategy of blaming the pill or the drug or the drug dealer or availability.

The general public has a responsibility in solving with this, and many other problems, by no longer accepting the politician’s instinctive decision to blame anything other than the decisions of individuals for the problem.

Addiction is a genetic illness for many people and it can be one of the toughest battles an individual fights, but the availability of a substance is not an excuse for abuse.  If someone is prescribed pain medication and abuses it by using a two-week supply in one week, that is the direct result of a decision made by the individual.

Alcohol is readily available - nowhere more than it is in New Orleans.  Yet, we expect the alcoholic to make the right decisions concerning drinking.  The availability of alcohol is rarely blamed – human behavior is blamed.  Why should not the same process be used when it comes to legal and illegal drugs?

For most of my life, heroin was a drug used by street people and some artists we are all familiar with, like Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.  Today, heroin has become the drug of choice for many white-collar, suburban professionals.  It’s available and cheap; and while I’ve never done it, it’s my understanding that it delivers a sense of euphoria.  But from every high, there is a low; and the low from the use of heroin is extreme.

Fentanyl is a powerful substitute for heroin, and that has become a major part of that drug marketplace.  It’s said to be more deadly than heroin itself.  Fentanyl is tightly regulated and prescribed for severe pain in some cases.  However, the CDC warns that many have started making it illegally, so criminals are manufacturing it just like they do for heroin.  A person could do these drugs for years, but then one day buy a batch that is lethal and die.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of the day and to flow with the rhetoric that places the blame on anything other than the behavior of individuals.

Let’s ask our potential mayoral candidates to come up with a plan to address the new #1 cause of death in the city of New Orleans, but let’s demand that they address the real problem – the continuing death of personal responsibility.

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