JEFFERSON, La. -- Jefferson Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish both saw huge increases in the number of heroin-related deaths in 2013. In St. Tammany Parish, the number of heroin-related deaths climbed from three in 2008 and 2009 to 11 in 2012 and 17 in 2013.
Up until a decade ago, drug dealers would get a mandatory life sentence for heroin distribution in Louisiana. Dealers now face a mandatory five to 50 years in prison.
“It's dangerously addictive. You use it and you're gonna try to come back for the same buzz, which you're never gonna get again,” said SUNO Criminologist John Penny.
In Louisiana, more people seem to be chasing that high.
“It's more party acceptable among white middle class people,” Penny said.
According to two Louisiana coroners, they're the majority who are dying of heroin-related overdoses in high numbers.
“Compared to 2012 I would say it's a substantial increase, about a 50 percent increase,” said Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, the Jefferson Parish coroner.
East Baton Rouge Parish saw an even bigger increase than Jefferson Parish in heroin-related deaths. Five people died in 2012 and last year, 33 people died.
Statistics weren't available for St Tammany or Orleans parishes. But in Jefferson the number climbed from about 40 to 64.
“Six additional overdoses that I think were probably thinking they were taking heroin, those are the acetylfentanyl overdoses,” Cvitanovich said.
It’s a heroin-like drug. Both coroners said they think the increase in heroin use is the result of a new prescription tracking system statewide.
“It really makes it much more difficult for people to doctor shop or for people to go in and lie about symptoms to get additional medications,” Cvitanovich said.
According to criminologists, decreased mandatory sentences could be playing a role in the supply.
Plus, people are getting drastically different concentrations.
“I do think we see more fluctuations now in the strength of heroin than we used to. So I think a lot of it could be due to people getting doses of heroin that are much stronger than they're used to taking, thus causing them to overdose and die,” Cvitanovich said.
It's a deadly trend that they hope will lead more people to get help instead of high. In all, 138 people died of drug overdoses in Jefferson Parish last year.