Sheriff Brett Stassi said his office is working day and night to rid the parish of drug dealers in the wake of four non-fatal heroin overdoses over a recent three-day period.
Three of the men were in their late 20s but the last was about 50, according to the sheriff. Two were brothers, he explained.
“If you start with the day the first one happened and end with the day the last one happened, those overdoses happened within a period of 72 hoursm,” Stassi said. “All four survived because of this miracle drug that can be given to them if they’re found in time.”
“We’re working on who put it out and where it came from that caused these four men to overdose,” he continued, adding the overdoses may have been caused by the addition of adulterants, including fentanyl, a prescription painkiller that can kill, even in small doses. “We’re working tirelessly on putting an end to heroin and other narcotics coming into Iberville Parish.”
“Somebody in the media asked me if I thought it was a bad dose of heroin and I told him, ‘There’s no such thing as a good batch of heroin,’” Stassi said.
He said heroin abuse has become a national epidemic.
“In Louisiana, in every family, you’re going to find two things and that’s cancer and drugs,” Stassi said. “Anybody who says different, hasn’t looked far enough.”
National statistics confirm the Iberville Parish sheriff’s opinion.
Over 64,000 people died from overdoses in 2016, according to the Center for Disease Control and over half of those are attributed to heroin and synthetic opiods. That number is nearly triple the statistics for 2000, when about 20,000 people died due to an overdose.
Stassi said the latest drug overdoses are the result of a cycle of drug abuse.
“This is a wave – drug problems seem to come in waves,” he said. “First it was crack and meth and they came with a lot of violence.”
“Then came the problems with the prescription medicines…I’ve read that oxycodone was originally prescribed for terminally ill patients,” Stassi said. “Now, it’s gone mainstream and it’s prescribed for everything. Because of the price of it and the reduction of sentences for heroin charges and the doctors getting arrested, all the pieces were in place for heroin to take its place.”
The sheriff said that for many, heroin becomes the last drug they abuse.
“I think heroin is the end-all drug,” Stassi said. “Once you get to the needles, you’re pretty much in the Superbowl of drug usage and very few people come back from that.”
He said he believes rehabilitation is the answer to the epidemic, not prison sentences.
“It does us no good to lock up all the users in the world…because 90 percent of them are non-violent offenders,” Stassi said. “We’ve got to make them better, we’ve got to get them off those drugs, especially heroin. We’ve tried that and we’ll continue to try that.”
The sheriff said he expects changes in the court system in the future that will continue to make sentences lighter on non-violent drug offenders, which could create a two-fold problem.
It gives some the opportunity to turn their lives around but for others, it’s just a stop on their way to a lifetime of crime.
“Hopefully, we can do some rehab for them while their in jail, but we’ve got a rough row to hoe for a while,” Stassi said. “ I’m hopeful we can get these people to seek help because once you get to shooting up heroin, there’s very little chance of coming back.”
Despite the uptick in heroin overdoses, the sheriff said Iberville Parish is still a safe place to live and do business.
“I tell everybody that we’re just three miles away from Gardere Lane (a crime-ridden area of Baton Rouge) on the east side but we’re worlds away from the crowd and we have a good community,” Stassi said, crediting his deputies for helping make that true.
“I’m proud of my road patrol people and I’m proud of my detectives,” he said. “The road deputies are the backbone of any sheriff’s department – they patrol, they’re out there.”
“The people we have hired here and the job they do is exceptional, especially our detectives,” Stassi said.