From prosecutor to sheriff, Greg Champagne witnessed firsthand the emergence of the opioid crisis and it’s why he knows it’s a problem so prevalent that it has to be addressed on multiple fronts.
“As a prosecutor in the 80s and early 90s, I saw no heroin cases,” said Champagne. “Now, since the Mexican cartels have implemented it as their main product, it is everywhere.”
Even as crime declines in the parish, the opioid crisis remains an issue in the parish, as well as the nation.
“Without a doubt, we have seen an increase in opioid abuse over the last few years,” Champagne said.
It’s why the sheriff, as well as authorities throughout the U.S., supports a plan announced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) aimed at reducing controlled substances made in the U.S. The plan is consistent with President Donald Trump’s “Safe Prescribing Plan,” which is also aimed at reducing the six most frequently misused opioids by at least 10 percent by next year.
Champagne knows the necessity of it because he aided the process to make it possible.
In March of 2017, Trump created the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The bi-partisan commission released a report that outlined a multi-level approach to reducing opioid addiction and overdoses.
“Many meetings and sessions were held,” Champagne said. “I am pleased to say that the National Sheriffs’ Association participated and provided input to the commission. While some may call this ‘President Trump’s Plan,’ it is really the work and unanimous recommendations of the bipartisan commission.”
The numbers drove the imperative to act.
In 2015, more than 50,000 people died from use or abuse of opioids, Champagne said. The commission confirmed 175 people on average were dying a day.
“The numbers of deaths began to exceed those caused by traffic fatalities on the highway,” he said. “It became obvious that something had to be done.”
By October of last year, Trump declared the opioid crisis was a national public health emergency, and one that required immediate response on several levels.
“The DOJ/DEA plan, to more closely regulate the prescribing of opioids for pain relief, is only one aspect of the overall national plan,” Champagne said. “The commission concluded that opioids were being over prescribed in this country. While most doctors are very responsible, unfortunately, it does seem to be the case that many were not.”
In setting the production quote, DEA considers data from many sources, including estimates of legitimate medical need from the Food and Drug Administration; estimates of retail consumption based on prescriptions dispensed; manufacturers’ disposition history and forecasts; data from DEA’s own internal system for tracking controlled substance transactions; and past quota histories.
DEA has proposed to reduce more commonly prescribed schedule II opioids, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine, and fentanyl.
Champagne said a careful balance must be achieved in addressing prescriptions to avoid patients going to the black market for the drugs, which has proven a potentially deadly move.
“What is very interesting in the report was the finding that in the United States, it has been the common perception that only if a person suffering from pain becomes pain free would the doctor’s course of action be deemed successful,” he said. “This perception, the commission found, was unique to the United States and concluded that it has been a factor in the over prescribing of opioids.”
While Champagne agreed prescription opioids are a substantial part of the problem, illicit illegal use is the largest aspect of the crisis.
“I am speaking of heroin and fentanyl,” he said. “Some of this may be due in part to the need for pain relief. I suspect a large part of it, however, is due to a recreational – experimental desire for drugs and getting high and has little or nothing to do with pain management.”
The sheriff continues to maintain the need to secure the border with Mexico.
“The forms of opioids that are actually killing people are the illicit versions such as heroin and fentanyl,” he added. “Most, if not all, is coming into the country from abroad and mostly the southern border. I have seen videos of minors being sent across the border with 80-pound packs of heroin strapped to their backs.”