Opioid legislation moves forward

Published 8:22 pm Monday, June 25, 2018

During the last two weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed 58 bills to address the opioid crisis with bipartisan support. 

The legislation will be considered by Senate next. The bills address what the Centers for Disease Control have labeled an epidemic by making it easier for law enforcement to intercept opioids in the mail and expanding access to treatment and prevention programs. In Troup County, local groups have been battling the rise in misused prescription drugs for years and will soon see what impact the new federal legislation will have at a local level.

“This is not something that is one and done,” said Shannon Lawson, the project coordinator for the Troup County Prevention Coalition. “This is something we will continue to try to work on and strive to abate, and I would love the community to know that we are here.”

Local law enforcement has seen the impact of misused opioids first hand, and the Troup County Sheriff’s Office has been working to combat the issue through partnerships with local agencies. However, some worry that may not be enough.

“There needs to be some accountability and some type of networking to show that this person has gotten some drugs or a class three narcotic from an individual. Why would they need to get another one?” Chief Deputy Jon Whitney said. “I think a lot of it can go back to the pharmacies as well being able to network.”

Whitney said that the sheriff’s office’s narcotics division has seen a rise in misuse of prescription medicines, and other counties have seen a rise as well.

“In the 6th District of Georgia, Fulton and Cobb counties have the highest opioid and heroin overdose rates of all counties in the entire state of Georgia,” U.S. Representative Karen Handel said in a press release. “In 2016 alone, 1,394 lives were lost. Families and friends are torn apart, and everyone knows someone who has suffered from, or been affected by, opioid addiction.”

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has spoken on the opioid crisis on numerous occasions, and he has worked with local groups on the issue.

“As I’ve worked with state partners over the past couple of years, I have joined Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr last fall in forming a task force to deal with the opioid epidemic,” Lawson said. “He wanted people throughout the state — community partners, anybody who is dealing with it in their region or their area of expertise — to come together and share ideas and work through this issue, so, as a prevention coalition, they welcomed us.”

Officials encourage residents to place any unused medications in drop off boxes at the LaGrange Police Department, Hogansville Police Department, West Point Police Department, TCSO or CVS Pharmacy on Morgan Street. CVS announced plans to promote safe disposal of prescription drugs through the installation of drop boxes at more than 500 CVS Pharmacy locations in multiple states in April. Medicine placed in drop boxes is destroyed. The TCSO alone has destroyed 84 pounds of prescription medication from its drop box in 2018 alone, according to Whitney, and approximately 500 pounds of medicine has been turned into TCSO’s drop box since 2015, according to Sheriff James Woodruff.

“I think it has a huge impact because you could have an elderly individual who is in a house or passed away, and we see more and more issues with prescribed medication being abused,” Whitney said. “It is more prevalent than it used to be, and the temptation is taken away from those folks to even try to use that.”

The TCPC encourages the community to take medicines only as prescribed, not share medicines with anyone, store medicines properly and properly dispose of unused medicines immediately.

Lawson said TCPC gives out the lockboxes at community events and at businesses where the group speaks. The group hopes the boxes will secure medicine from family or visitors who may be tempted to use it.

“Our data shows that teens report the first ‘drug dealer’ for prescription drugs to be their own medicine cabinet or the medicine cabinet of a friend or family member,” Lawson said. 

To learn more about opioid abuse in Georgia, visit Doseofrealityga.org.