Baton Rouge, LA

Fatal overdoses in Baton Rouge, LA have spiked in the last decade, with heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids accounting for the vast majority of these deaths. In recent years, overdose spikes have coincided with a steep increase in homicides related to gang activity and drug distribution.

The East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office (EBRDA) aims to reverse this trend by prosecuting high-volume drug manufacturers and suppliers — cutting off the opioid epidemic at its source. As a first step, EBRDA teamed up with other agencies in the region, including the police department, the sheriff’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Louisiana Prescription Monitoring Program, the Louisiana Department of Corrections, and the National Guard, to gather an impressive array of data related to overdoses, drug use, and related criminal activity. On a quarterly basis, researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) analyze the data and report their findings, generating intelligence that enables the multidisciplinary team to make informed strategic decisions.

Dr. Gabriele Richardson takes the lead on drug market mapping — the process of overlaying data on drug-related arrests, overdoses, and other relevant activities with geographic information systems (GIS) maps. The resulting maps offer a geographical depiction of the opioid epidemic in Baton Rouge and have enabled the IPS team to better understand the problem from a macro perspective. Through drug market mapping, the team has discovered that the areas in Baton Rouge experiencing the highest rates of opioid overdose are not the same areas where individuals are being arrested for drug-related incidents; nor are they the same areas with the highest rates of opioid prescriptions. This data suggests that overdose victims may be getting their opioids from alternative sources, possibly via the dark web. To this end, the IPS team has disaggregated overdose data by United States Postal Service (USPS) carrier route and has partnered with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to investigate further. 

Data analysis has also uncovered that certain hotels, motels, and gas stations in Baton Rouge are associated with high rates of overdose. In some cases, the team is working with the city parish government to revoke hotel permits and is utilizing the data to exert pressure on the worst-offending businesses.

Dr. Tracey Rizzuto leads the team’s social network analysis (SNA). She integrates data from criminal narcotic incident reports, arrest records, emergency medical system Narcan distributions, and other sources with qualitative intelligence from field officers to map the social connections between various actors in the drug market. To date, her analysis has revealed few connections between known drug distributors and overdose victims, lending credence to the theory that many overdose victims may purchase drugs elsewhere. Through SNA, Dr. Rizzuto has also traced some drug-related activity to several gangs and groups in Baton Rouge, enabling law enforcement to target their enforcement efforts.

Dr. Elizabeth Winchester coordinates information sharing between agencies. On a monthly basis, she synthesizes and analyzes collected data into Dashboard Reports. These reports, along with the analyses of her colleagues, are circulated to the IPS team. The ability for the criminal justice partners to access timely, relevant information through robust data surveillance, monitoring and analysis can inform their investigations, enforcement tactics, and responses. The dashboard reports can also be a useful tool for ongoing community education efforts.

EBRDA’s opioid reduction strategy is just getting started. The ultimate plan is to merge its current effort with the parish’s other intelligence-building initiatives, including the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, the Real Time Crime Center, and the Gulf State Technology Initiative, which involves the creation of an integrated intelligence database along the I-10 corridor from New Orleans to Houston. Through IPS, Baton Rouge has built the foundation for a high-impact, intelligence-driven approach to the opioid crisis.

Team Members

Lawrence Alexander, Jr. — Group Supervisor, Drug Enforcement Administration
Sonia Armstrong — Counterdrug Analyst and Sergeant, Louisiana National Guard
Rob Chambers — Lieutenant and Narcotics Officer, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office
Beau Clark — Coroner, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office
Jon Daily, CPA — Grants Manager, EBRDA
Steve Danielson — Director of Crime Strategies Unit, EBRDA
Holly Distefano — Crime Statistician, BRPD
Joe Fontenot — Assistant Executive Director, Louisiana Board of Pharmacy/Prescription Monitoring Program
Carol Johnson — Analyst, Drug Enforcement Administration
Jamie Nolen — Crime Statistician, BRPD
Jamie Oertel — Probation/Parole Officer, Louisiana Department of Corrections
Jeff Pittman — Lieutenant and Narcotics Detective, BRPD
Paul Pugliese — Assistant U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Louisiana
Gabriele Richardson, Ph.D. — Professor of Geography & Anthropology, LSU
Tracey Rizzuto, Ph.D. —Associate Director of the School of Leadership and Human Resource Development, LSU
Jim Steele — Investigator, EBRDA
Michael Weileman — EMS Unit Commander, City of Baton Rouge
Elizabeth Winchester, Ph.D. — Research Associate, Social Research and Evaluation Center, LSU