Jefferson Parish coroner who attended State of the Union address glad for attention to fentanyl

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 6:09 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Biden called for more stringent measures to control the influx of deadly illicit fentanyl.

The remarks drew cheers and jeers along partisan lines.

“Fentanyl is killing 70,000 Americans a year,” Biden said, calling for more surveillance equipment and inspections of packages imported from foreign countries.

“Border, border,” chanted the Republican side of the aisle.

Watching the commotion in person was Jefferson Parish Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich, who attended the address as an invited guest of Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Metairie).

“It was America, it was great,” Cvitanovich said.

Cvitanovich has seen the death toll from the synthetic opioid skyrocket.

“Last year, we had 335 overdoses,” Cvitanovich said. “And 80 percent were fentanyl.”

Across Louisiana, fentanyl deaths have increased fivefold, from 200 in 2017 to nearly 1,000 in 2021, the last year figures were available.

“Today could be described as a poisoning. All people are doing is taking one pill,” Cvitanovich said.

But if that single pill contains enough fentanyl, the results can be fatal. Fentanyl is now blamed for more than 35 percent of all overdose deaths.

While the fentanyl problem is a serious one statewide, local law enforcement is especially at risk. Last week, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said two NOPD officers recently needed medical treatment after on-duty exposure to fentanyl.

Cvitanovich said he agrees that more education about fentanyl is needed, along with stepped-up inspections for courier services and at the border.

“I would like to see it attacked from every angle, starting with education, and it starts with parents,” Cvitanovich said.

The coroner also said prosecutors and the federal government need to step up illegal narcotics enforcement efforts.

“I’m very concerned that so many people were dealing drugs and they’re not being prosecuted when they’re caught,” Cvitanovich said. “Let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production, its sale, and trafficking with more drug-inspection machines, inspections of cargo, and stop pills and powder at the border.

“We’re just up against a huge issue. It’s not like it hasn’t gotten their attention. It’s a mountain we have to climb, to get control of this, to stop having all these darn deaths.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration says that, last year, it seized enough fentanyl to kill every American. The DEA called fentanyl the deadliest drug threat the U.S. has ever faced.

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