The next Regional Snapshot, coming out very soon, will examine Public Health in the Metro Region. On that theme, this Special Feature post will focus on one of the more prominent public health issues facing the country and region at this time: the opioid addiction and overdose crisis. As of the CDC’s most recent provisional count spanning the 12-months between August 2016 and 2017, overdose deaths caused by opioids claimed 45,200 lives in the United States, accounting for 67.1% of all overdose deaths during that period1. Between July 2016 and September 2017, suspected opioid-related overdoses increased by 30 percent across 45 states.
In Georgia in 2016, their were 996 overdose deaths caused by opioids, representing 68.8% of all drug overdose deaths in the state and a 61% increase since 2013. Of the overdose deaths statewide in 2016, 595 involved prescription opioids, a more than tenfold increase since 1999.
The interactive chart below displays the trends in total, opioid, and prescription opioid overdose death rates for the state and 10-county Atlanta metro region from 1999 to 2016. If on a phone or other device, view the mobile version.
The 10-county Atlanta metro region reports higher prescription opioid overdose rates in most years than the state as a whole, but has followed a similar trend to the state, with the problem of prescription opioid overdose deaths increasing over time. Since 1999 in the 10-county Atlanta metro region, the number of prescription opioid overdose deaths has increased at more than 5 times the rate of deaths overall, at 2.5 times the rate of overdose deaths, and at more than 1.5 times the rate of all opioid overdose deaths.
The interactive chart below displays the trends in total, opioid, and prescription opioid overdose death rates for each of the 10 counties in the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) planning area from 1999 to 2016. If on a phone or other device, view the mobile version.
In addition to increasing addiction to prescription opioids, the likelihood of opioid overdose deaths has increased due to more potent illicit opioids, like fentanyl, hitting the market. Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid which was involved in 199 overdose deaths in Georgia in 2016, according to the Opioid Overdose Surveillance Report recently published by the Georgia Department of Public Health. Nationally in 2016, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were involved in an estimated 20,145 deaths – a staggering 540% rise since 2013.
Public health experts suggest a multi-pronged approach to addressing the opioid crisis, including addiction prevention, criminal justice interventions, and access to substances like Narcan (naloxone) to reverse overdoses when they happen. On the addiction prevention side, the State of Georgia will require, beginning July 1st, 2018, that prescribers check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database when prescribing opiates or cocaine derivatives. The purpose of the PDMP is to reduce over-prescribing and easy access to prescription opioids. Additionally in 2017, Governor Deal signed a bill making access to naloxone easier across the state.
Additional suggested reading:
The Substance Abuse Research Alliance report from the Georgia Prevention Project
A Brookings Institute report on impacted communities
A TIME magazine feature issue on opioid addiction