Southeast Georgia as well as the rest of the nation is still trying to figure out how to tame the increasing opioid addiction storm.
Congressman Buddy Carter invited law enforcement personnel from across the First District to a roundtable discussion Monday morning in Richmond Hill about the matter.
Carter earlier in the day also addressed the issue at a Richmond Hill breakfast kicking off Georgia Cities Week.
“This is something that is ruining lives, it’s ruining careers and it’s ruining families,” Carter said. “We have to get a handle on this.”
Carter said 115 people now die daily because of opioid abuse.
“The number is probably even higher because of the stigma surrounding drug addiction,” he said. “Families would probably rather have an obituary in the newspaper say it was a sudden death or even suicide instead of a drug overdose.”
Carter added that the average life expectancy in the country has recently dropped from 78.7 years to 78.6 because of the surging death rate from opioid abuse.
“There are another 2.5 million people who are addicted,” he said. “The question is what to do about them.”
Carter said one reason for working with law enforcement is to find out what types of opioids they are dealing with and what appears to be the most prevalent method people are using to secure them.
“Reducing prescriptions from rogue doctors and stopping the ordering of this stuff online from foreign countries will make a big difference,” he added.
Getting rid of unwanted prescription drugs safely is also one way to cut down on abuse. The Richmond Hill, Pembroke and Hinesville police departments will host drop-offs for unwanted prescription drugs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The drop-offs in Richmond Hill and Pembroke are being done in conjunction with the Bryan County Opioid Prevention Project. That same group is hosting a panel discussion on the topic from 4-6 p.m. May 1 at the Richmond Hill City Center, which Carter is expected to attend.
Bryan County was one of four statewide chosen last year to receive grant money for opioid prevention efforts after being found to be high risk. Mary Fuller, who is overseeing the county program, said opioids — primarily oxycodone, hydrocodone and Vicodin — are prescribed for chronic pain and ideally on a short-term basis, either in end-of-life situations such as hospice or following surgery.
“Research shows that one in four users will become addicted, and since it is a prescription people often think it can’t be harmful because a doctor gave it to them,” she said. “While opioid abuse doesn’t necessarily lead to heroin addiction, a large percentage of heroin addicts started off abusing opioids.”
Fuller said some 70 percent of those who abuse opioids get them from family or friends.