St. Tammany Wants Out of the OD Club
Like every other area in America, St. Tammany had a record-setting drug overdose death toll in 2021. Unlike many other areas however, this year seemed to be a whole ‘nother story. In fact, the South East Louisiana Parish was on track to post its lowest numbers in years.
Then a 15-year-old-girl overdosed and died. So did a 22-year-old man. Both on the same night. And both by the same cause. Pills that were stamped Percocet.
The pills weren’t prescription Percs of course. They were fentanyl. And while we don’t yet know the precise percentage of fentanyl held by the pills, we do know it was far too much for these two young people. Way too much. We also know it was enough to prompt the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office to issue a public warning.
“Relatively small amounts of Percocet are not typically fatal,” read Coroner Charles Preston‘s statement. “I am very concerned that our community may be experiencing illicit drug trade that involves intentionally tainted pills.”
Dr. Preston couldn’t be more spot on. St. Tammany Parish is experiencing an uptick in counterfeit pain pills. So is every other community in the country. Why? An abundance of fentanyl is one reason. Scant regard for the lives of others is another.
A Very Bad Year for St. Tammany
As far as fatal drug overdoses are concerned, 2021 was a very bad year for St. Tammany Parish. In fact, the parish saw a 35% increase from the previous year. Yes, other parishes saw even more pronounced increases – 51% in Orleans Parish, 64% in St. Bernard Parish, 69% in Jefferson Parish. Yet considering St. Tammany is one of Louisiana’s fastest-growing parishes, the number of drug overdose deaths became a major cause for concern.
Parish officials stepped up. And not just a few parish officials either. In fact, the list of St. Tammany Parish stakeholders who stepped up to address the drug overdose deaths read like a Who’s Who in parish operations. St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper was there of course. Front and center. So was Coroner Preston. In addition, there was St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith, St. Tammany Parish Fire District #1 Chief Chris Kaufmann, Florida Parishes Human Services Executive Director Richard Kramer, and Dan Schneider, Advocate and subject of the Netflix Documentary The Pharmacist. And just to be sure the world knew the courts were also in their corner, 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery was on hand, as were a smattering of 22nd Judicial Specialty Court Judges.
The stakeholders had assembled to announce a parish-wide Narcan initiative that was made possible through a Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program grant the parish government had secured from the Bureau of Justice Administration. The grant enabled citizens to pick-up the opioid antagonist kits (cost-free) at either St. Tammany fire stations or one of the various Florida Parishes Human Services Authority offices.
Last year, Parish President Cooper and Parish Coroner Preston distributed nearly 2,000 Narcan kits throughout St. Tammany. That means officials also trained citizens in the use of the life-saving treatment, as well as what the life-saving treatment could mean.
A Picturesque Parish
Counties, historically, were sections of land ruled by a count or a countess. Parishes, in contrast, were small administrative districts that had their own church and priest. It’s a Roman Catholic tradition. And Louisiana’s parish system grew naturally out of the state’s heavily Roman Catholic past.
In fact, the Catholic church still uses the parish system. Louisiana, however, is the only state to employ the system in its local government. But aside from the name – and tradition – Louisiana’s parish system is really nothing more than a charming name.
It does however represent some charming parishes, including St. Tammany.
St. Tammany sits on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in what’s called the Northshore region. Like we said, St. Tammany is one of the state’s fastest-growing parishes. It’s population quadrupled since 1970. And it’s expected to double again by 2030. Much of the increase can be attributed to Katrina (2005), which forced folks to the south to flee flooded areas. Subsequent climate change continues to force folks to seek higher ground.
Then there was Chevron. When the corporate giant moved its Louisiana offices from downtown New Orleans to the Northshore, its employees followed suit. Actually, at the time – 2008 – an estimated 50% of the Chevron staff already lived on the North Shore. Company relocation packages – and a horrendous commute – will undoubtedly lure the rest.
And while that bodes well for home-builders, realtors and other bedroom community advocates, the suburban sprawl is unleashing formerly urban problems. Nevertheless, there is still charm to be had throughout the parish. Then again, when a place is steeped in this much history, charm is generally a given.
What’s in a Name?
The name Tammany spring from Tamanend, the Legendary Principle Lenape Chief & the “Patron Saint of America.” Yep, Chief Tamanend was apparently a great diplomat. Of course he was also friendly to the European settlers, especially William Penn. After President James Madison claimed what was then West Florida and the Florida Parishes were laid out, the parish was christened with the more “American-sounding” Tammany.
That was in 1810. And while St. Tammany remained mostly rural for the next 150 years, the Lake and its many bucolic estuaries made for a great escape from New Orleans proper. Consequently many entrepreneurs were compelled to create luxury lodgings all across the region. And the Northshore became the go-to summer retreat for wealthy city dwellers.
These days more and more folks are getting interested in that fabled history. In fact, the eight Florida Parishes that became first part of the Territory of Orleans (1810) and then Louisiana proper (1812) are making concerted efforts to raise historical awareness. And In 1990, Louisiana’s legislature formally designated this part of the state as “the Republic of West Florida Historic Region, or the Florida Parishes.” Furthermore, in 1993 Interstate 12, which runs east and west through the Northshore region, has been officially designated as the Republic of West Florida Parkway.
St. Tammany Parish: Today and Tomorrow
Healing Properties wishes to applaud the St. Tammany officials, from Parish President Cooper to Parish Coroner Preston to Parish Sheriff Randy Smith. They and their staffs have made great efforts in battling opioids. They’ve also made tremendous progress. Yes, the recent deaths are a tragedy. And yes, we all wish they could have been averted. But the numbers are trending down, to a remarkable degree. And we should all be grateful.
We’re also grateful to reporter Joni Hess. It was the NOLA/Times-Picayune Staff Writer who led us to the St. Tammany. And it was that story which led us to discover all the great good. Seems the Northshore community is taking both reactive and proactive steps to address the opioid crisis. And those steps seem to be working.
Speaking of which… Hess’s story also led us to Dr. Greg Caudill, medical director of Alchemy Addiction Recovery in Slidell. Dr. Caudill also happens to be president of the state’s Addiction Medicine Society, so he’s familiar with fentanyl in all its forms. That means he’s also familiar with its dangers.
“I’ve seen fentanyl mixed in with methamphetamine and there’s a lot of methamphetamine in St. Tammany Parish compared to New Orleans,” Caudill told Hess. “I’ve seen people that didn’t even like opioids overdose on fentanyl, because they thought they were buying methamphetamine.”
Dr. Caudill’s story isn’t unique to St. Tammany, or the Northshore. Fentanyl is getting into all illicit drug supplies. It’s also killing all kind of illicit drug users.
That makes addiction treatment all the more essential. Are you considering rehab? Have you decided to reclaim your life? Please give us a ring so we can help. Because now is definitely the time.