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Georgia’s Opioid Epidemic and Ways to Get Help

December 12, 2017

Addiction is a heavy subject and one that can tear families and friends apart. It doesn’t go away when we go to sleep or when Christmas comes. Oftentimes, addiction is magnified and exacerbated around the holidays when families gather together.

Everything from drugs to alcohol to gambling and risque behavior are all forms of addiction. But, there’s one addiction that’s grown significantly in the last 15 years and has taken the lives of so many around us; it’s known as the opioid crisis.

Opioids

Opioids are often prescribed to relieve severe pain due to injury, cancer, disease, or as a post-surgery treatment. However, opioids can also be prescribed for other medical reasons like a simple cough. Although opioids have many useful effects, when taken too long they can cause serious physical dependencies and tolerance. That means opioid users must increase their dosage to continue feeling the same physical relief but also to ward off any physical withdrawals that come from the dependency. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that took over 28,000 lives nationally in 2015.  

What’s more, in 2015, over 12.5 million Americans reported abusing prescription painkillers with 914,000 reporting heroin abuse.

Unfortunately, this number continues to rise.

In fact, there’s been such a huge bump in opioid overdose deaths that data from the Georgia Department of Public Health show deaths related to drug overdoses are nearly equal to that of motor vehicle deaths.

Relationship Between Prescription Opioids and Heroin

There is a strong link between the misuse of prescription opioids, like painkillers, and heroin abuse. Two national studies found that 80% of heroin users began by abusing prescription opioids. Several factors suggest why the increase in heroin abuse has risen so dramatically:

  • The drug is increasingly available

  • It’s cheaper than prescription painkillers

  • The pure form of the drug gives an intense high

Who is Most at Risk?

Since we’ve seen opioid abuse lead to heroin abuse, it’s important to know who’s at risk.

Although anyone is at risk for opioid abuse, if you know a loved one has shown some of the following behaviors, they may be at risk for opioid abuse:

  • Diagnosed with a mental illness
  • History of substance abuse
  • Taking large amounts of pain relievers
  • Doctor shopping – going from doctor to doctor seeking multiple prescriptions

The CDC reports those at the highest risk of heroin abuse are:

  • Ages 18 to 25 living in large cities
  • Addicted to prescription painkillers, cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana
  • Without health insurance

Opioid Use in Georgia

Unfortunately, Georgia has seen its fair share of opioid overdoses. According to the Substance Abuse Research Alliance, part of the Georgia Prevention Project, Georgia:

  • Ranks 11th with the most prescription opioid overdoses

  • Has more overdose rates in 29 counties than the rest of the United States

  • Saw 549 deaths in 2015 to opioid abuse

Although overdose deaths tripled from 1999 to 2013, prescription opioid deaths increased tenfold from 1999 to 2014 in Georgia. And in 2015, Georgia saw 1,307 deaths related to drug overdoses, 68% of which were from opioids and heroin.

Georgia’s Good Samaritan Law

In April 2014, Governor Nathan Deal signed Georgia House Bill 965, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law or the Good Samaritan Law.

This law protects anyone who calls 911 seeking medical attention for someone experiencing a  drug or alcohol-related overdose. That means neither the caller nor the victim can be arrested or prosecuted for a small possession of drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia if it’s evident they were seeking medical assistance.

Additionally, this law gives more access to Naloxone, also known as NARCAN, which can be given to someone to reverse the effects of an overdose. When given in a timely manner, Naloxone can keep someone from dying or suffering long-term brain damage from an opioid overdose.

Georgia’s Efforts on Opioid Education and Recovery

There have been several acts Congress has passed in the last 15 years to stop drug abuse and encourage education around the effects and risks of drug abuse. Most recently, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act which authorizes over $181 million each year to fight the opioid epidemic over the next 10 years.

With that in mind, Georgia has outlined steps and an agenda for the next few years that will educate, train, and spread information about opioid addiction and recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funds the Georgia Opioid State Targeted Response Program. This program and its funds are administered by Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

In its first year, DBHDD was funded with $11.7 million to develop a response to the opioid crisis in Georgia. The project will focus on prevention, education, and recovery. DBHDD has outlined several strategies to start this project:

  • Statewide media campaign - helps increase awareness about opioid abuse, provide education about the problem, and increase awareness of Georgia’s Good Samaritan Law.
  • Naloxone Education & Training - provides training for Naloxone/NARCAN for first responders and community members who are trying to reverse the effects of an overdose.
  • School Mentor & SPF Opioid Pilot Programs - implements a School Transition Mentor pilot program to develop an opioid education program for transitional periods.
  • Expansion of Medication Assisted Treatment - expands treatment services to those with opioid addictions and limited resources for recovery.
  • Recovery Services and Peer Support - increases peer support throughout the state and implements new approaches to recovery.

DBHDD has more information about each of these strategies and their plan to implement the project.

Know someone at risk of opioid addiction or want to learn more about how you can help? Visit Georgia Overdose Prevention to get more resources, find out how to get Naxalone, or to get involved.

DBHDD also has more information about addictive diseases and treatment centers for adults, children and adolescents, women, and DUI intervention.

Addiction Recovery Awareness Day, put on by the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, will take place on January 11, 2018, at the State Capitol. The event is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Liberty Plaza. This is a day where recovering individuals come to share the message to state legislators that recovery is possible and over 25 million Americans live healthy lives in long-term recovery. For more information, visit their website for an agenda of the event or contact laurisa@gasubstanceabuse.org.

Chelsea Stephens

About the Author

Chelsea Stephens is the Marketing & Training Lead for Digital Services Georgia. A Georgia native herself, Chelsea enjoys writing on topics that citizens and visitors of Georgia can enjoy and learn from. 

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