Members of the Houma Police Department (HPD) and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry gathered at HPD headquarters (500 Honduras St., Houma) to announce a new tool to be used in the fight against the local opioid epidemic – a prescription drug medicine drop-box.
“There’s an absolutely alarming statistic out there that says basically 60 percent of opioid addicts start their addiction with someone else’s prescription,” said Landry at the press conference. “One of the ways that we can effectively combat this crisis is by getting those prescriptions that are just being stored in someone’s medicine cabinet...One of the answers to that is right here, and that is in placing a drug prescription take-back box.”
The “take-back” box, which will be housed at HPD, will allow citizens to deposit unused or found prescription drugs into the box – without question.
“I can just tell you that this drug take-back is an initiative, that we have partnered with the Attorney General’s Office, has been tremendously successful,” said Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman. “The box is available 24 hours a day. Anyone can come in and turn in medication.”
Since the inception of the program with Blue Cross Blue Shield, it has now placed 69 permanent boxes in 45 different Louisiana parishes.
“Even with only a few of those parishes reporting back to me to tell me how much they’ve collected in their boxes, we know that we are well over a ton just in the past few years,” said Kandyce Cowart, Manager of Federal Investigations at Blue Cross. “So that’s a ton of medications that could have gone into the hands...of someone who is opioid naïve —they’ve never taken an opioid before and that may lead them down the path of addiction — or even worse, in the hands of a child.”
Although Houma’s drop-box is the latest installment in this statewide initiative, Coleman said, it’s department will differ from the normal program and take in any illegal narcotics.
“...We stepped it up a little bit further,” Coleman said. “We’ve also, at the police department, have said that anyone doing this initiative that comes into our agency, and they may have any kind of illegal narcotics that they may find in a residence and want to turn in, that we will also let them come in —no questions asked — take that narcotic and also destroy it as well.”
This community effort is something that the HPD and Attorney General’s Office hope can lessen the drug-related, and specifically opioid-related deaths, that have plagued Terrebonne Parish in recent years.
“Since 2017, we’ve been having a huge issue with opioid overdoses,” said Lt. Jeff Lirette, Narcotics Commander of HPD. “In 2017 in the parish of Terrebonne, we handled 56 overdose deaths related to opioids. In 2018, that has decreased to 33 and as of June of this year, we have 22. Those are just the deaths that are reported to us as opioid-related overdose deaths. That’s not counting the overdoses that are reported to us where people don’t die.”
At the conference, Landry and HPD officials shared positive sentiments on another initiative, started by the Attorney’s General Office, that saves not only lives of opioid users who are overdosing but also first responders who come across lethal drugs, such as fentanyl.
In the early stages of the Landry Administration, because of a $1 million settlement against a drug manufacture, the Louisiana Department of Justice made available the drug Narcan, also known as Naloxone, free of charge to all first responder agencies that apply for it. The prescription drug counteracts the effects of opioids and restores breathing during an overdose.
“Instead of taking a million dollars cash and sending it to Baton Rouge...This was a way that we could actually affect the epidemic,” said Landy. “It is a tremendous project that is absolutely saving lives as well.” •