Heroin deaths rise dramatically in Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Some states, including Louisiana, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Louisiana:

THE PROBLEM:

State health officials say heroin deaths in Louisiana have spiked dramatically, reaching 110 fatalities last year, compared to fewer than five deaths 10 years earlier. Addictive disorder treatment facilities also report seeing increased numbers of heroin addicts in recent years.

THE NUMBERS:

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports that deaths in heroin-related incidents remained below five a year from 1993 through 2004, gradually edging up to 16 deaths in 2011. Heroin-related deaths jumped to 48 people in 2012 and 110 last year, according to preliminary statistics.

The department says behavioral health facilities reported the numbers of heroin addicts admitted to state-licensed facilities hovered between 200 and 500 people a year from 2000 through 2008, but that jumped to more than 1,100 people in 2009 and reached more than 1,300 admissions in 2013 for the primary drug of heroin, with the problem most acute in New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes.

RAMIFICATIONS/SOLUTIONS:

State lawmakers are considering changes to Louisiana's laws because of the spike in heroin use and related deaths.

The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to toughen Louisiana's penalties for heroin use and distribution. The bill would require a mandatory two-year jail sentence for heroin possession and would double the minimum mandatory sentence for distribution and production from five years to 10 years. It awaits debate in the state Senate, which is weighing other proposals to make penalties against the drug harsher.

The Legislature also is considering a bill that would allow police officers, emergency medical personnel and other first responders to administer a life-saving drug to people who have overdosed on heroin.

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