Heroin-related deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish spiked last year - the Coroner's office recorded 35 fatalities. Only Jefferson and Orleans Parish had as many.
To try to stop the deaths, a new law will allow not just paramedics, but all first responders to carry the drug Narcan - which can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose within seconds.
But some activists say the law doesn't go far enough. They say they'll keep distributing Narcan themselves directly to drug users illegally.
A few hours ago, Logan Kinamore got a call. He gets in his car, drives down Perkins road and pulls into a CC's Coffee House parking lot. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. He cuts the engine, looks out his passenger window and nods to a man in another car. The man gets out, walks across the parking lot, opens the passenger door and gets in Kinamore’s car.
He called asking if he knew where to get clean syringes. Kinamore brought him some, along with something else. He takes out a paper lunch bag.
“And I also wanted to bring you a Narcan kit, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” Kinamore says.
Kinamore opens the kit to show him 10 clean syringes and a 10 dose vial of Narcan, otherwise known as Nalaxone. He takes him through the symptoms of an overdose, how to inject someone, what to do after administering the drug, and urges him, if all else fails, to call 911.
“So I’m glad you called today, man,” Kinamore tells him, shaking his hand.
“No problem, man. I appreciate you,” he responds before getting out of Kinamore's car.
Kinamore is the founder of No Overdose Baton Rouge, a grassroots effort to combat death by heroin overdose. He distributes overdose kits for free. All you have to do is ask.
"Technically what we do is not legal, we have to be underground," he says. "Narcan’s not a controlled substance because it’s not psychoactive and has no addiction potential, but it is a regulated substance. It’s a prescription drug so technically under the law, it’s illegal to distribute or administer a prescription drug without a license or a direct order from a physician.”
- Sheriff Syd Geautreaux
According to the Baton Rouge EMS, paramedics have been carrying Narcan for years. Last year, they administered it 315 times to rescue people from overdoses. Still, the Parish Coronor recorded 35 heroin-related deaths last year. There have been 15 already this year.
Kinamore says it's often because users and bystanders are afraid to call 911 for fear they’ll be arrested. A law that goes into effect on August 1- a good Samaritan law - would provide immunity from prosecution for possession if you’re calling 911 to report an overdose. However, if the caller gave drugs to the victim, Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore says he would prosecute for distribution.
“A boyfriend distributes it to a girlfriend, and the girlfriend starts overdosing and that person makes a phone call, I do not believe that is protected because that person distributed the heroin to the girlfriend and I do not believe that person should receive the full benefit of this statute,” Moore says.
Not to mention that even when someone does call 911, any number of things can delay treatment. Often in drug-related calls, law enforcement arrives first to clear the scene and ensure it’s safe for paramedics.
Sheriff Syd Geatreuax says anything could happen when officers arrive to a scene, and having to worry about administering Narcan would just be a distraction.
“There’s a line between being a medical professional and being a law enforcement professional. I just can see some problems with us, when we’re in there trying to maintain a scene, especially a dangerous scene, to having a dual role to administer some drug to someone who has ingested or injected themselves with an illegal substance,” Geautreaux says.
He’s also concerned about liability. It’s not clear how or when Narcan training will be available to first responders, so the Sheriff isn’t even sure he’ll ask his deputies to carry it. So Kinamore says legal or not, he’ll continue to distribute Narcan.
“We’re going to continue providing Narcan to the people who are the true first responders in the event of an overdose, and those people are fellow users and the family and friends of users,” Kinamore says.
All you have to do is ask.