Accidental poisonings have overtaken car crashes as the leading cause of unintentional deaths in Louisiana. And, it's an opioid epidemic that's getting the blame.
Dr. James Diaz, Medical Toxicologist and Head of Environmental & Occupational Health at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health, says it's not even close.
"Deaths from drugs...opioids, prescribed and illicit, far exceed motor vehicle deaths."
He says when Louisiana began to crackdown on opioid prescriptions, people who'd become dependent on them, started going to the streets, buying heroin and heroin deaths began to exceed motor vehicle deaths. He says the problem has grown even worse, because heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines are now being adulterated with the illicitly manufactured and deadly drug, fentanyl and related opioids.
Total opioid prescriptions per 100 Louisiana residents has decreased since 2013, while total opioid-related deaths have been steadily on the rise in this decade.
Dr. Diaz, says two out of three drug overdose deaths in Louisiana involve an opioid. And, the rate at which overdose deaths have overcome motor vehicle fatalities is alarming.
"I mean, these are far exceeding. They're double. There's a 100 percent increase over motor vehicle accident deaths."
He says Louisiana is at the epicenter of a national epidemic.
"Louisiana's right in the epicenter," he says. "There's a handful of states that are in the epicenter of this epidemic and they're all in the Mid-South. It's Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma. And we have a major, major problem in Louisiana."
"Hey, we're on the biggest distribution pathway in the south," Diaz says. "We're on I-10. That's the closest interstate to Mexico. These drugs come in from China to Mexico to the U.S. And they come right across I-10. You can ask the DEA. There are more interdictions for illicit drug trafficking on I-10 and I-12 than anywhere else in the United States."
CDC Wonder data has been used to evaluate the leading cause of unintentional deaths by state over the last 5 years.
The analysis shows the leading cause of unintentional death in Louisiana is poisoning with 22.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
According to the CDC, unintentional deaths are the third most common cause of death. And, the top three contributors are accidental poisonings, motor vehicle accidents and falls.
Unintentional deaths due to drug overdose, however, bring a new meaning to the word “accident.”