LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) —Last weekend, three overdoses in downtown Lafayette shed light on a growing problem inside and outside of Acadiana, fentanyl. Of all the overdose deaths in Lafayette Parish so far this year, fentanyl is the greatest killer.
According to the Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office, the amount of Fentanyl deaths inside Lafayette Parish has doubled every year since 2018. There were 13 overdose deaths in 2018, followed by 25 in 2019, and doubling again to 50 in 2020. As of August of this year, 61 have died from fentanyl in Lafayette Parish.
News Ten’s Neale Zeringue spoke to Sheriff Mark Garber on their approach to prevent further loss of life.
“What I’m hoping that we can do is get enough word out there that these numbers don’t continue to climb,” Sheriff Mark Garber explained.
Garber has been on the offensive against Fentanyl since he came into office in 2016. He says the cheap opioid is largely smuggled into the country in large quantities then cut into other drugs so dealers can boost their supply, so the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office must be strategic in how they remove them.
Sheriff Garber said, “The street-level dealers are very, very easily replaced. There are people standing in line to deal at the street level. Whereas, regional level dealers, people who are supplying those street-level dealers, are a more valuable target to me because I feel like I am doing more damage for the given amount of expenditure of resources, i.e. the man-hours, and they also have assets I can seize at times. Vehicles, cash, weapons, things like that.”
According to the sheriff, drugs are at the root of most property crime and violent crime in the Lafayette parish.
“Everything from a catalytic converter theft to just a normal vehicle burglary, where they are stealing guns, or money, and things like that, all the way up to the homicides,” Garber stated. “People are having a beef over territory or over being insulted or over money being owed or something like that or it’s retaliation for an act that was resulting from something like that, or it’s just direct people are infringing on each other’s turf, and they go to shooting each other.”
In addition to narcotics patrol, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office has a Highway Interdiction Unit that operates along I-10. Garber said multiple agencies track travel along that road from Houston to Florida.
In late 2017, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s deputies were equipped with Narcan which counteracts opioids like fentanyl. Over the years, they have administered 103 doses to 81 people, saving everyone until this year where three 3 died after receiving Narcan.
“We’ve never saved these many lives before as we do now. I mean it’s rare. We’ll save lives when people have a heart attack or a choking incident or a child drowns and we’ve brought some back before, but it’s not as common. This is common. You know it’s not even a big deal anymore,” Garber expressed.
But when people are saved or dealers arrested, that’s not where law enforcement’s job ends. About 15 people a month are referred to the Acadiana Recovery Center for rehab, sometimes as part of their bond. In the jail, substance abuse programs are provided twice a week.
“If you don’t provide them with some support what’s the easiest thing to do? Go right back to what they are doing, right. It felt good, they liked it, and they’ll slip back into that pattern, so we’re trying to change their patterns of behavior, so it’s a multifaceted approach and it’s about everything I can do as a sheriff,” Garber concluded.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, as little as two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal. If you or someone you know has a drug abuse problem, call 1-800-662-4357 for the Woodlake Addiction Recovery Center. Something could be cut with fentanyl and become 50 times more potent than heroin.