Special to Fayette Newspapers

Fayette County leaders will hold a town hall to address the growing concern for opioid abuse on Thursday, Oct. 19. The 6:30 p.m. gathering at the Sams Auditorium in Fayetteville, called “Not Our Town, Not Our Kids: Pain Killers, Heroin and Overdose,” aims to stem the rising tide of addiction.

Opioids include both legal painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain, as well as illegal drugs like heroin or illicitly-made fentanyl.

“Opioid abuse is destroying individuals and families, yes, even in Fayette County,” said Becky Smith, Drug Free Fayette Executive Director. “We say no more. Not in our county.”

Fayette County coroner data indicates about 10 overdose deaths from opioids per year, and the Coweta County coroner reports more than 20 per year with some signs of potential increase. Drug Free Fayette is currently working with the Georgia Department of Health to get statewide DPH-verified counts of such deaths.

In Georgia, 1,307 people died from drug overdose deaths in 2015, double the number from 10 years ago. Of those, 900 were from opioids (painkillers). This is four times the amount 10 years ago, so deaths are increasing much more quickly than other drug overdoses.

The Town Hall, presented by Drug Free Fayette and Fayette County Schools, will include Ken Morrow (Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Task Force Officer), Donna Michel (Felony Drug Court Administrator for the Griffin Judicial Circuit), Nick Russo (Substance Abuse Counselor), Raymonde Neely (Fellowship of Christian Athletes Area Representative), a Peachtree City Emergency Medical Technician, and a youth in recovery.

“David’s Story,” a short documentary about a local youth lost to heroin as told by his mother, a nursing supervisor at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, will also be shown.

“Opioid addiction is no respecter of persons,” said Pam Reid, Drug Free Fayette Executive Director. “The epidemic is taking from us those we hold dear, and also decreasing the health and strength of our community.”

Experts say the United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic, as more than two million Americans have become dependent on or abused prescription pain pills and street drugs.

“The Fayette County School District is committed to working with our community partners in raising community awareness on key topics,” said Dr. Joseph Barrow, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent. “One significant issue we recognize is the growing national concern regarding the serious danger of the misuse of painkillers and other drugs. As a community we must insure our youth are educated about the seriousness of inappropriate drug use.”

During 2015, there were 52,404 overdose deaths in the United States, including 33,091 (63.1 percent) that involved an opioid. That’s an average of 91 opioid overdose deaths each day.

The number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by doctors steadily increased from 112 million prescriptions in 1992 to a peak of 282 million in 2012, according to the market research firm IMS Health. The number of prescriptions dispensed has since declined, falling to 236 million in 2016.

About 11.5 million Americans age 12 and older misused prescription pain medicine in 2016, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. About 948,000 or 0.3% of the US population age 12 and up used heroin in 2016.
“Through our collaborative efforts, we can decrease the potential for misuse and addiction, thereby saving the lives of many,” added Reid.

People who become dependent on pain pills may switch to heroin because it is less expensive than prescription drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that half of young people who inject heroin turned to the street drug after abusing prescription painkillers, also that three in four new heroin users start out using prescription drugs.