The Opioid Crisis in Georgia

The opioid crisis in the United States has reached epidemic proportions, and although the severity varies from region to region, no state has escaped untouched.

Opioid abuse statistics from 2015 show just how catastrophic the problem has already become:

  • 12.5 million people misused prescription opioids
  • 33,091 people died due to overdosing on opioids
  • 2 million people had prescription opioid use disorder
  • 15,281 people died due to overdosing on commonly prescribed opioids
  • 828,000 people used heroin
  • 12,989 people died due to overdosing on heroin
  • 9,580 people died due to overdosing on synthetic opioids

Opioids are not a recent problem, either, costing the U.S. a total of $78.5 billion in 2013.

Georgia’s Opioid Problem

Although Georgia’s situation is not as dire as it is in other states such as New Hampshire, Maine, and West Virginia, it is bad enough to warrant state government intervention.

The Georgia Student Health Survey is a yearly study involving all middle and high school students in the state, and its results help determine how many students are taking prescription opioids. The 2017 survey found that 4.5 percent of freshman and 4.5 percent of seniors in Bryan County schools admitted to taking opioids within 30 days of the survey, compared to 1.8 percent of freshman and 2 percent of seniors in high schools across the state.

Bryan County High School results show that 3.8 percent of freshman and 6.1 percent of seniors have used opioids. Richmond Hill High School reports 4.7 percent of freshmen and 3.9 percent of seniors using opioids.

The survey’s results were used to show the need to create a state grant program to focus on intervention and preventive strategies in four counties of Georgia to try and get a handle on the problem. The four counties involved include Bryan, Richmond (Augusta), Coweta, and DeKalb.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities is managing the project, which is funded by federal money totaling about $11.8 million. The funds are used to increase treatment and awareness of the opioid crisis.

Mary Fuller, the project coordinator, noted that Georgia’s opioid epidemic has become so serious that it’s now common for first responders to carry naloxone, a drug used as an antidote to block the effects of opioids in case of an overdose.

In Georgia alone:

  • From June 2016 to May 2017, prescriptions of opioids to patients exceeded 541 million or about 54 doses for every man, woman, and child in the state.
  • 982 Georgians died due to opioid-related overdoses in 2016, accounting for about 69 percent of drug overdose deaths in the state.

How Did We Get Here?

One of the major reasons behind the opioid crisis is doctors prescribing more over the last 20 years. According to a National Institute of Drug Abuse report, in 1991 doctors wrote 76 million opioid prescriptions. By 2011, the number had nearly tripled to 219 million.

Drug companies also seem to be major contributors to the problem. With doctors boosting the number of painkilling prescriptions, drug manufacturers developed newer, more powerful products. While physicians were told these new drugs were safer and more effective, they were actually more addictive. People who use opioids, even when prescribed, can develop a dependence since long-term use often leads to higher and higher doses needed to remain effective at controlling the pain.

Opiate use disorder involves:

  • Strong desire to use opioids
  • Inability to control or reduce use
  • Trouble meeting social or work obligations
  • Facing legal problems due to drug abuse
  • Spending a lot of time trying to obtain opiates
  • The need to use larger amounts of painkillers over time
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing use

Symptoms of opioid misuse include:

  • Inability to feel pain
  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching of the skin or reddened skin
  • Constipation
  • Slurred Speech
  • Confusion or bad judgment

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Craving for opioids
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Salivation
  • Goosebumps
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Shakes
  • Loss of appetite

Opioid Lawsuits

There have already been a number of successful class-action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies offering painkillers. After nearly a decade of court battles, Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the popular and commonly-prescribed opioid OxyContin, recently settled a Canadian class-action suit for $20 million.

Until the mid-1990s, opioids were mostly used as pain relievers for terminal cancer patients, with doctors prescribing them because they did not have to be taken as frequently. Physicians then began to prescribe OxyContin for a wider range of pain issues, and the drug became the top selling opioid in Canada for more than 10 years.

The lawsuit noted that the deficiencies of OxyContin did not become publicly known until May 2007 when Purdue and three of its executives were ordered to pay $634.5 million to settle a criminal and civil suit against them in the United States for marketing the drug as less addictive than other painkillers. In 2012 Purdue pulled the drug from the market and claimed that problems were due to abuse of the drug on the part of patients.

There’s no question opioid use has skyrocketed, fueled significantly by over-prescribed drugs and their aggressive distribution by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

If a doctor has prescribed an opioid to a loved one who has died or is now addicted to or dependent on opioids, then you may qualify for participation in a class action lawsuit. Our attorneys are well versed in opioid lawsuits and can provide you with the information and guidance you need to try and make things right.