First, the good news: Fatal drug overdoses in Louisiana appeared to level off in 2018 after years of steady increases fueled by the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Now, the bad news. Even though the number of overdoses stabilized, it plateaued at a historically high number. And it would take many years of steep reductions to bring the rate back to where it was before the opioid crisis began.
Within the grim numbers lies another riddle: The number of fatal overdoses that involved the potent opioid fentanyl continued a precipitous rise in 2018, even as the overall death toll from drugs remained essentially flat.
Complete statewide data from 2018 are not yet available. But The Advocate sought statistics from the four coroners whose parishes in 2017 saw more than half of the drug overdose deaths in the state: Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany and East Baton Rouge. All four keep detailed information on which drugs are found in overdose victims' systems.
Taken together, the number of fatal overdoses in those four parishes fell by about 2 percent last year. The number of fatal opioid overdoses rose by about 2 percent.