HAYESVILLE, NC. – Deaths from opioid overdoses have increased more than tenfold in Georgia over the past eight years, and on average, four residents of North Carolina die each day as a result of the epidemic. Nationwide statistics show that deaths from opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999. With many physicians dispensing pain medications, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, at an alarming rate, the epidemic has reached an all-time high – no pun intended.
The Public Policy Network (PPN) held a seminar on Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Hinton Center in Hayesville, to address the opioid crisis in the area. Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer, and Coordinator with the North Enotah Drug Court, Barbara Honaker, gave a presentation on “Facing the Reality of Addiction: the Opioid Crisis in Western North Carolina and North Georgia.”
PPN is a civic organization, comprised of volunteers, that monitors state and national policy proposals that affect communities and individuals. In 2018, the organization has focused on public policies affecting the health, environment, and financial security of citizens residing in Towns, Union, Cherokee and Clay counties.
In April of this year, Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw announced a decision to pursue a class-action lawsuit, along with other counties, to seek financial retribution from manufacturers of opioids, for the impact it has had on county resources.
County Attorney Robb Kiker stated that within the county, 111 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents were dispensed in Towns County during 2016, the period that the last study was conducted. While all of Towns County residents are clearly not opioid users, it is indicative of the magnitude of the crippling crisis.
Georgia has a 911 amnesty law which protects individuals who report a drug overdose to emergency responders from legal repercussion. The law aims to reduce overdose deaths with a two-pronged approach. First, it encourages individuals to call for help when experiencing or witnessing an overdose by removing the risk of legal consequence. Additionally, it provides varying levels of civil or criminal immunity for those involved with the possession or administration of the opioid antidote, naloxone.
Towns County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Hiawassee Police Department officers, and local emergency medical service responders are armed with, and trained in, the administration of naloxone, a medication that reverses the detrimental effects of an opioid overdose.
Since late 2016, Georgia pharmacists have been permitted to dispense naloxone without a prescription. This was originally a standing order from the Department of Public Health, and was codified by the legislature in early 2017.
Opioid users physical tolerance to the drug increases over time, causing greater amounts of the drug to be needed in order to feel the effects, and thwart painful withdrawal symptoms. Many users were legitimately prescribed opioids by a physician for pain relief, yet find themselves unwittingly trapped in the vicious cycle of addiction. Opioid dependence can occur in as little as a few days of use, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic.
Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee qualified for a $250,000 grant in late 2017 from the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee. The grant was awarded to assist in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse issues in the area.
Additional information on the opioid epidemic, including ways to seek help from addiction, can be found at Georgia.gov
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