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Post Session Update: Combatting the Opioid Epidemic

By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is an epidemic that has claimed more than 630,000 lives from 1999 to 2016. While your immediate thought might be that this epidemic is referring to vehicle accidents, cancer, heart disease or another type of health condition, you would be wrong. The growing epidemic the CDC is referring to is drug overdoses from illicit drugs and prescription opioids. In 2016 alone there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths and opioids contributed to 66 percent of those. According to the CDC, this means that on average “115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”

Drug overdoses, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, in Georgia in 2016 totaled more than 1,400 according to the Georgia Department of Health data. In comparison, 10 years earlier in 2006, the number of drug overdose deaths was approximately 767. Georgia’s rate of opioid overdoses rose 10.5 percent from 2014-2015, categorizing our state as a “significant” increase in overdoses. While some may argue about the causes of opioid addiction and why overdose rates have grown so drastically, the fact of the matter is that it is killing Georgians at an alarming rate. This is an epidemic that will require a combined effort by our national and local elected officials, law enforcement community, health professionals and our citizens to end.

During the 2018 session, we focused on appropriating funds to combat the opioid epidemic in Georgia. We appropriated around $2.3 million in the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) budget for 11 positions to expand drug enforcement task forces statewide. Additionally, $4 million was appropriated to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to provide substance abuse recovery programs and the Department of Community Health will receive $244,317 to support annual inspection of narcotic treatment programs. These are just a few of the highlights of the over $11 million that was appropriated in the FY19 budget to address the opioid epidemic.

In addition to what was appropriated in the FY19 budget, the legislation below was passed during the 2018 session:

• Senate Bill 407: This legislation gives Department of Public Health (DPH) the authority to share prescription information, if the program or system contains safeguards that meet security requirements of DPH, with a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) operated by another state or electronic health record system operated by a prescriber or health care facility. This legislation was signed by the on Governor on May 7, 2018, and will become effective on July 1, 2018.
• Senate Resolution 832: Creates the Senate Study Committee on Risks Associated with Kratom which will study the use and risks of kratom. After conducting meetings around the state with stakeholders, the study committee will determine if the state needs to take legislative action to address this issue.
• House Bill 701: This legislation adds all forms of opioids to be included in drug testing for state employment. This legislation was signed by the Governor on May 3, 2018, and will become effective on July 1, 2018.

As the staggering statistics show, drug addiction is a disease that affects not only the person who is suffering from addiction but their families, friends, communities and so many more. It is a disease that affects people from every walk of life and doesn’t discriminate based on social class, age, gender or ethnicities. Families of those who lost the battle are left with years of grief and unanswered questions. We know this epidemic is not something we can cure in a one-step solution but I believe positive strides were made this past session.

If you have any questions about anything related to appropriations or legislation aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic or other legislation passed this session, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will continue to update you over the course of the next few weeks on other legislation that passed during the 2018 session. Remember, I am always here to help if I can be of service in any way.

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