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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- The face of the heroin user is changing. They are more often women, and they are younger and richer. There are also more minorities using than 10 years ago.

And as reported Wednesday in a Jefferson Parish town hall meeting, that is contributing to an alarming rate of deaths in the area.

It was a chance for those on the front lines of helping residents and people with addiction illness to hear the facts about heroin in Jefferson Parish.

'New Orleans has been a consumer city for, you know, traditionally, now it's more of a source city for Southeast Louisiana, for southern Mississippi,' said Donald Petty of the Gulf Coast HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas).

Trafficking patterns changed when Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleanians to Houston. Some took over those middle man distribution positions.

Also, because of tightening around prescription pain killers, heroin can be cheaper and easier to get.

At the town hall meeting experts said from 2012 to 2013, the death rate from overdoses of heroin (65) doubled and this year in 2014, it's already on pace to be even higher (45).

They say this is a public health issue. Longer sentences just approved in the legislature and policing are not the answers.

'All the data suggest that doesn't work. It doesn't decrease the problem. It doesn't decrease crime. Has no real effect on it. It's not going to be addressed by law enforcement. That's not how we're going to change any of these problems. So the focus has to be on prevention and treatment issues. That's what works,' said James Becnel, the program director of JPACC (The Jefferson Parish Alliance of Concerned Citizens). That is the group that put on the program.

People with no insurance for treatment end up in jail.

'The availability of the substance abuse treatment and the detox beds have disappeared. We used to have some and they've gone away, and so as the need continues to rise, the availability of treatment has decreased. And so what ends up happening is the jail is the only place they can detox,' said Melissa LaLone, the Jefferson Parish coroner's mental health manager.

'It's funding. It's an issue of funding and you know the manage care companies are always trying to ratchet down what they're paying for and the state funding is drying up,' said Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, the Jefferson Parish coroner.

But in the end, lack of treatment ends up costing the community more.

'Heroin always wins. It wins over love. It wins over family. It wins over money,' said Dr. Cvitanovich.

There are place that can help. They include the JP Human Services Authority, the JP Coroner's Office, the VA, or your insurance company can help you find treatment in network or ask your doctor's office for a referral.

Here are some crisis lines and contact information:

JPHSA Crisis Team: 504-832-5123

VA Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA Help Hotline- 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

JPACC- 504-361-2515

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