Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- They are calling it unprecedented action against one of the worst problems hitting this community.

Leaders from all corners of society have banned together to produce a master plan, based on science, to fight the many problems and crime caused by addiction.

Wednesday they made their big announcement.

It started nearly two years ago with people who want change, people who realized one thing is behind most of the violence, crime, child abuse and neglect, sick newborns, deaths on the roadways, school dropouts, hospital admissions and injuries on the job: addiction.

'Now is the time to tackle the drug problem that has plagued our city for too long,' said Stephanie Haynes, the chairwoman of the Strategic Planning Initiative of the Greater New Orleans Drug Demand Reduction Coalition.

So the coalition was formed, 80 members strong, to do something never done before, to tackle the serious problem from three angles: 1) medical treatment of mental illness, 2) by prevention in schools, churches and other areas, and 3) in enforcement and the criminal justice system.

'The fact is, is that 75 percent of the people that get arrested have some sort of illicit substance in their system,' said Sheriff Marlin Gusman of Orleans Parish.

'The one black eye we still suffer is the violent crime. Ladies and gentlemen, we get to the drug problem, we get to the violent crime problem,' said Leon Cannizzaro the Orleans Parish District Attorney.

Now, for the first time ever, this team of military, law enforcers, educators, doctors, community service providers and citizen movers and shakers did a comprehensive study -- hard, cold data -- on just how bad the problem is.

Six percent of 10th graders sell drugs. Young adults in this area use drugs at double the national average. To make matters worse, they say, the state is debating further cuts to mental health and addiction treatment.

'So if in fact that budget that the Senate is looking at today actually becomes law, the effects will be devastating,' said Judge Calvin Johnson, who is the executive director of the Metropolitan Human Services District, an agency that is responsible for the mental health services in the area.

'We can't do more with less. We are barley scraping by as it is,' said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the city of New Orleans health commissioner.

The New Orleans Police Department says just arresting someone who needs treatment, is the worse possible answer.

'Someone who desperately needs mental health, who's acting out and making himself a danger to himself or others, and there's no resource for the police department other than what, arrest, which is the worst answer. But that's what happens when you see these cuts and we should quit not thinking that these are catastrophic changes in the day to day life of citizens,' said NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

The comprehensive blue print is around 80 pages long. The coalition plans to start action in the fall.

There will be more on the coalition Thursday at 8 a.m. on the Eyewitness Morning News.

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