Following worst year for drug overdose deaths, St. Tammany tries to curb opioid addiction

150 people died of drug overdoses in St. Tammany in 2021

Eric Bowen had overdosed before, but this time the officials at Michelle Arthur’s door were delivering news no parent should have to hear.

“New Year’s Eve, I was ready to go to work and the coroner’s knocking on my door saying they found him deceased,” Arthur said of her son.

Bowen, 32, of Slidell, had been found dead inside a dilapidated house frequented by drug users on New Year’s Eve, 2021. He had OD’d on fentanyl.

“He thought he was buying heroin and apparently he wasn’t,” said his mother.

For several years now, public health authorities in St. Tammany Parish have watched with horror as the number of drug overdose deaths rose from 53 in 2016 to a staggering 150 last year.

The numbers in St. Tammany are trending down this year, with 35 overdose deaths recorded through July. But if the first half of 2022 promised a respite, the deaths of a 15-year-old girl and a 22-year-old from the same pills last week illustrated once again how formidable the drug problem is.

The 150 people who died of drug overdoses in 2021 were a record high, the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office said. Of those deaths, 132 were opioid-related, including the highly potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

“Eric was  He was one of the smartest people anyone could ever meet,” said his mother.

But he suffered from depression and anger issues. His father had spent time in jail, which weighed heavily on him, Arthur said. At 17, Eric joined the military, became a paratrooper and saw combat in Iraq in 2003. He got injured in a parachute jump. and developed back and knee problems,  and the opioid dependency began.

“It’s a typical, cliché story,” Arthur said.

St. Tammany recorded 109 overdose deaths in 2020, the Coroner’s Office said, a significant increase over the 67 in 2019.

Dr. Greg Caudill, medical director of Alchemy Addiction Recovery in Slidell and president of the state’s Addiction Medicine Society, is familiar with fentanyl in all its forms. “It’s easily transported. Easily hidden and smuggled,” he said.

But it can also be incredibly dangerous, as evidenced by the deaths Tuesday.

Those deaths prompted St. Tammany Parish Coroner Charles Preston to send out a media alert warning drug users that a wave of possibly tainted drugs might be washing over the parish.

The girl who died had taken several pills; the man had taken a single pill. The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office was trying to expedite the toxicology testing of any drugs or residue at the scenes to help determine what caused the fatalities, Preston’s office said.

“I am very concerned that our community may be experiencing illicit drug trade that involves intentionally tainted pills,” Preston said.

Caudill said the fentanyl is often more potent than users realize.

“More recently it’s just pure fentanyl even when patients think they’re using something else. It’s why overdoses have become more prevalent and the amount it takes to produce a lethal overdose is very small,” he said, noting that when it first started showing up around the parish, it was laced with heroin.

The synthetic drug has also been discovered in drugs that users and health professionals alike didn’t expect.

“I’ve seen fentanyl mixed in with methamphetamine and there’s a lot of methamphetamine in St. Tammany Parish compared to New Orleans,” Caudill said. “I’ve seen people that didn’t even like opioids overdose on fentanyl because they thought they were buying methamphetamine.”

According to lab testing by the Drug Enforcement Agency, the counterfeit pills are often made to look like prescription pills including Percocet, Vicodin, and Adderall, and are sold as such.

Caudill said that once ingested, even in tiny amounts, fentanyl can induce an overdose by suppressing the respiratory system and lowering one’s blood pressure.

Last year, St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper, along with Preston, distributed nearly 2,000 kits of Narcan, a medicine that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose. Residents can pick them up at no cost from fire stations and the Florida Parishes Human Services Authority.

Law enforcement officials have been trying to keep up. In March, Slidell police arrested 80 people and recovered over 600 grams of methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl.

“Slidell is a small-knit community, there was just so much (drug use) surrounding us,” Arthur said, ticking off a list of users she knew. “It was draining as a family.”


Take the ACES Quiz

Take The ACES Quiz

Child abuse needs to stop and education is the key. The Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs,” quiz asks a series of 10 questions about common traumatic experiences that occur in early life.

4 Lies About Having Fun in Recovery

4 Lies About Having Fun in Recovery

Fun Recovery? Lies, I tell you lies!

We all carry stories in our minds about what getting sober is supposed to look like.

Recovery is “supposed” to be a lot of things: necessary, life-changing, humbling, difficult, non-linear, healing, sobering, a time of adulting your way through epic growth and change.

We often think and talk about getting sober as a time of putting the big girl panties on. Taking responsibility. Manning up. Getting serious. Pulling it together.

This is all true to a certain extent, sure. Getting sober can be serious business.

But who wants to live in total repentance, solemnity, and seriousness?

No one.

If that’s what sobriety really means, then very few people are going to make it.

There’s something missing here. That thing is FUN.

If you can’t have a fun recovery, why on earth should we expect anyone to do it?

Sure, fun isn’t the only reason to do something, but you’ve got to admit it’s pretty darn compelling.

As Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Joy is an important part of a lasting, radical change.

It’s time we stop talking about sobriety as something un-fun and start telling the truth about what a blast sober people can have. Read on to discover 4 lies you’ve been told about having a fun recovery.

Lie #1 – Sober People Are Too Lonely to Have Fun

This is a common, and sad myth about sobriety.

The truth is, getting sober does cause temporary upset to your social life.

When you’re deep in problem drinking, you tend to surround yourself with people who accept – or even support – your addiction. If you’re into the bar scene, it’s easy to think that quitting will mean giving up all your friends. If you’ve been isolating and drinking alone, then you know how lonely you already are. And you can’t imagine how much more lonely you’d be if you were sober.

That’s a fair assumption.

But it’s wrong.

There’s actually nothing more lonely than being caught in the spiral of addiction.


When you’re in recovery, you automatically open yourself up to more connection, more friendship, and more fun.


Because you’re more available to connect with people in an authentic way – showing your real self. You have more time to pursue fun group activities, classes, and workshops where you’ll meet new people. You can join that gym, that soccer team, that dance troupe. You can finally start going to those game nights or cooking classes or those bowling league meetings – whatever floats your boat. You’ll have more time now that you’re not spending most of your waking hours thinking about drinking.

You’re going to discover really quickly that sober people love spending time with other sober people. Whether you join a formal recovery group – like AA or Refuge Recovery – or whether you find other sober people in your area. Odds are you’ll make new friends who are on your same page just by being open and honest about your journey. The friends you do make will be able to relate to what you’re going through, and they’ll be ready to cheer you on.

Lie #2 – Having “Too Much Fun” Leads to Relapse

This one is so silly I almost have to laugh, but I’ve heard it multiple times from multiple different people in the recovery community so I feel like it really needs to be addressed.

The idea here is that having fun is going to remind you of drinking and you’re going to want to drink if you have “too much” fun.

This is just so dumb.

Yes, you’re going to want to avoid the places and people you associate with drinking – especially at first. You might associate some of these places with “fun.” Showing up to your favorite bar and not drinking is going to be really tough in early sobriety. It might always be something you’re never going to feel comfortable doing.

The same goes for the people you used to drink with – they’re probably not going to “get” your whole recovery trip and they’re going to feel threatened by your newfound sobriety. While you might associate these people with “fun,” when you get sober you might realize all you had in common with them is drinking. You’ll want to minimize the time you spend with people like this, because, they can be a bad influence on you, especially as you are just beginning your journey.

But avoiding fun because you associate it with drinking? Not necessary.

In fact, I recommend you do everything you possibly can to have a maximum amount of fun, especially in early recovery.

Get those “feel good” endorphins pumping again as they naturally should. Watch a funny movie, play with your kids, do something ridiculous, get messy, play that long-lost sport you miss playing. Remember what was fun to you when you were a kid before you started drinking. Was it Legos? Coloring? Craft projects? Science fiction stories? Get into it again, no matter how “silly” you might feel.

Give yourself permission to explore what’s fun to you now.

Lie #3 – You Should Feel Guilty for Having Fun

You don’t hear people say this one out loud too often, but the sentiment can be real.

Often, addiction comes with a heaping serving of shame. You’ll feel the shame when you’re drinking but when you get sober, you’ll feel it even more. There’s nothing numbing your feelings now. You’re able to survey the damage from this new vantage point better than ever and you might not like what you see. It’s normal to feel regret and disappointment in some of the events that you allowed to transpire over the course of your addiction.

We all make mistakes, even when we’re sober. People struggling with addiction often make more mistakes – and bigger ones – because of their disease.

If that describes you, then you probably already feel lousy enough about it. Assuming you’ve done what you can to right the wrongs and make amends where possible, at a certain point you have to let the past be the past and start focusing on the future.

If you can’t shake the feelings of shame and self-hatred, talk to a counselor or trusted friend about your thoughts.

Whatever you do, don’t decide that you don’t deserve to have fun and find joy in your life because of the mistakes you’ve made in your past. No one benefits from you continuing to feel poorly about yourself for the mistakes you made while you were drinking.

You are not that special. You’re not irredeemable. It’s right that you should enjoy yourself and have fun in sobriety regardless of what you’ve done in the past.

After all, having fun is going to help you stay sober in the long run – and that’s the best thing you can do to ensure that you never make the same mistakes again.

Lie #4 – Recovery Isn’t Fun

Have you noticed how people often talk about recovery in terms of labor and toil?

If you’re in AA, you’ve got to “work” the steps.

If you’re in counseling, you have to “work” on yourself.

The language we use to talk about recovery implies that this is going to be a long, hard slog. It’s going to take a lot of concerted effort – and this is definitely not going to be fun.

What if I told you that recovery doesn’t have to be such hard work?

What if I told you that recovery can actually be fun?

If you said this in some circles, the idea of having a fun recovery is almost treated like a criminal thought. The implication is that addicts don’t deserve to have fun after the mess they’ve made. They should sit in penitence, in a “time out,” until they’ve thought about what they’ve done long and hard. They need to realize that they were “bad” and figure out how to be “good.” They need to reform.

And they can’t reform if they’re – gasp – having fun.

But we already know that addiction isn’t a moral failing – it’s a disease. We already know that locking addicts up and punishing drunks doesn’t magically bring long-term sobriety.

We’ve known for decades now that laughter is a powerful form of medicine. If it works in jump-starting the immune systems of cancer patients, why can’t it work to boost the brain chemistry of people with substance abuse disorder?

The answer is: it can.

At its core, addiction is about addressing persistent negative feelings – chemical imbalances in our brain – with a dangerous form of self-medication.

To really address addiction, we’ve got to address those negative feelings that we’ve been trying to drink away.

Having fun regularly can help get the brain back on the right track, reducing negative feelings and reducing the urge to self-medicate. Re-learning how to have a fun recovery is a critical component of building long-term, sustainable sobriety.

Release the Shame and Start Having Fun

Take a moment to consider how you think about sobriety. Does staying sober seem like “hard work?” Are you “getting down to business” and “putting your nose to the grindstone” or are you embracing the joy and playfulness available to you in a life free of addiction?

If people – friends, family, sponsors, mentors, counselors, social workers – have told you or shown you that recovery isn’t fun, do you need to believe them? Do you need to hold onto the idea that sobriety isn’t fun?

Consider that the more fun you have in sobriety, the easier and more enjoyable your clean time will become. Prioritize and schedule fun for fun’s sake in your life. Explore new ways to have fun and investigate if old ways of having fun from childhood still work for you. Laugh at yourself. Give yourself permission to get silly.

Sober doesn’t mean somber! Shake off some of that seriousness and prove to yourself that recovery actually can be all fun and games.

Erin Gilday is a copywriter and content marketer at Little Light Copywriting, where she specializes in helping addiction treatment providers help more people. She’s also an author, activist and former substance abuse counselor. She likes classic cars, industrial sewing machines and The X-Files. You can connect with her on Linkedin.

Erin Gilday

woman sitting in a car with the sun shining in the window

Being Sober and Facing Grief

Being sober and facing grief is quite different because there is no pain reliever. I remember I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of a One Stop gas station when Mom called to tell me my grandfather, who I affectionately called Papa, had passed away. As if the initial shock wasn’t enough, she said he had passed away three days prior to her telling me. I asked why she waited to break the news, and she simply said, “I didn’t think you would care.”

I was in the middle of my active addiction and didn’t participate much in family functions – my life was a mess and this was pure proof. I was unable to stay sober for family functions, but I showed up to them anyway. The unfortunate part is I do not even remember them. The fact my mother believed I wouldn’t care about my Papa passing away still hurts me, but I understand it now.

A couple of months later, I surrendered and went to treatment. I did 60 days in two different facilities, then stayed at a sober home in South Florida. While in treatment, sober homes, and even just the program you meet a lot of people who are doing all they can to beat this disease. Unfortunately, what comes with that is a lot of loss as well. I have lost more people to addiction than I would like to even admit to.

Two of my roommates from different treatment centers, two beautiful girls filled with more energy and life than I ever had, succumbed to this. I remember those calls as well – it is like the world stops for a moment. I sat in shock, then heartbreak. I think of all the things they could have done and everything they will never get to do. I think of their families and the pain they must feel.

The loss of Papa was difficult, but the difference between his passing and the loss of my roommates is I am sober now. I feel all these emotions including fear. I have a fear of this disease that it could so easily and so quickly take my two friends, but instead of focusing on the loss, I celebrated their lives. A group of us got together and went to the beach. We bought a soda bottle with her name on it, each wrote a note to her, and listen to a song called “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth. We let the bottle go into the ocean and we released balloons into the sky.

I can’t explain the feeling we had there sitting together and remembering all the things we did with her. Being sober for this loss was so different. I sat in it and instead of choosing to run and use, I chose to face it. I chose to celebrate life and be grateful to still have mine. I chose to live each day for those loved ones we have lost to addiction, and strive to accomplish all the things they no longer have the opportunity to.