Georgia has seen an increase in opioid abuse and overdose to the point where the University System of Georgia (USG) initiated a security measure in February to lessen the rates of overdose deaths caused by opioids in college students. The antagonist to opioid overdose is a synthetic drug called naloxone, which is available systemwide for all USG campus law enforcement agencies.
Naloxone blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system. The interception of this drug can save lives if used in time.
State Senator Renee Unterman, a Gwinnett County Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said access to naloxone began a few years ago when a Georgia State student, Justin Leef, came to the Capitol with a portfolio of his friends who had died from opioid abuse.
Leef read there was something that could help those struggling with abuse, and wanted to change the law. This action eventually led to naloxone being available over-the-counter.
“I discovered naloxone through the mothers and fathers who lost children as a result of heroin and opioid overdose. I had never heard of it before that time,” Leef said.
Reported Drug Crimes and Drug-Related Deaths
So far in 2017 as of July 13, there have been 60 reported drug crimes in which a Georgia State student or non-Georgia state person was charged with possession of marijuana or other drugs, investigated because of an odor of marijuana, or charged with distributing controlled substances, according to police reports.
Most of these events have resulted in arrests, since marijuana possession is still illegal in Georgia, in comparison to other states such as Colorado, California, Alaska, Maine and Nevada.
As reported in an April 2017 Signal article, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recorded that Georgia’s largest rise in overall deaths caused by opioid overdoses was between 2013 and 2014, with a “fatal increase of 10.2 percent.” The percentage rose another 6.7 percent from 2014 to 2015. The surge in this drug abuse is trending among students 18- to 25-years-old.
The CDC has also reported a rise in heroin abuse, a precedent to the fact that each year in Georgia approximately 1,000 people die from overdoses of illegal opioids such as heroin or fentanyl, a prescription drug narcotic that is used to treat severe pain.
There have been 50 cases of drug crimes (some of which the charges are mishandling of prescription medication) at the University of Georgia (UGA) in 2017, in comparison to over 20 cases of the same and other drug-related crimes at Kennesaw State University (KSU) in the same year.
In stark contrast, Emory University (EU) has experienced only 10 this year.
“It might be that those particular drug crimes are situations where we do residence hall checks, in which we find something and the person is charged or not charged,” EU Police Captain Cheryl Elliot said.
Elliott said there are also situations in which the campus life department checks dorms at the end of semesters when students have gone home, and finds stored drugs that students accidentally left behind.
Since EU is a private school rather than state, it is not subject to any initiatives that the USG places on other schools. But according to Elliott, EU’s police officers do have access to the drug naloxone in case of emergency situations.
According to East Atlanta Patch, 17 Georgia deaths have been caused by furanyl fentanyl and U-47700 in the past four months – the same amount of all of last year. This caused the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to release a public safety alert regarding the drugs.
“The GBI crime lab has received about 50 cases involving furanyl fentanyl or U-47700 this year. In many of those cases, the drugs were mixed with three or four additional opiates, such as heroin,” the report reads.
Prevention and Treatment
Unterman wrote Georgia’s two U.S. senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue about the need for the pending health care legislation to address and treat substance abuse issues, especially opioid addiction.
“That was about the Affordable Care Act and the replacement. The letter is about whatever they do don’t cut the funding for treatment of addiction,” Unterman said, regarding proposals that would do so. “The reason I wrote the letter is to say now is not the opportune time when we’re in the throes across the United States of an epidemic.”
Unterman said that Georgia received a grant of $11.8 million for abuse treatment, calling it “just a drop in the bucket” since there are not enough therapeutic treatment programs funded for the vast amount of abuse.
“Men that are 18- to 40-years-old [have] no public assistance to be able to help them,” Unterman said. “Females have a better ability [to find help] because they can go on Medicaid, because usually females have children. Once you go into the system [as] having children, then you can receive public assistance.”
Non-profit treatment programs are available, but because of the vast amount of drug abusers, there are often not enough openings. Both Unterman and Manning believe there is not enough done for prevention, and that learning about it should start at a younger age since some addicts start abusing in middle school.
Unterman said Georgia-based prevention programs were cut during the recession in 2008.
For Lisa Manning, the mother of a victim of an opioid-related death, recent events in her life have led her to actively spreading awareness to others about opioid addiction and other drug-related consequences.
“Our mission is to start with the schools…The average age of kids trying drugs is nine. We need to have some kind of program implemented in the elementary schools [if] the average age is nine…If we start programs in middle and high schools, it’s too late,” Manning said.
A Teenager at the Hands of Addiction
Dustin Manning, a senior high school student at Mountain View High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia, was 18 and on deciding on college, when he passed away from an opioid-related death.
“I don’t consider his death an overdose even though that is what they are calling it,” Lisa Manning said. “He had a clean drug screen the night before as we had been randomly drug screening him while he was living at home.”
Though the toxicology reports haven’t come back yet, Dustin’s parents “fully believe” the drugs he took were laced with the deadly fentanyl.
Dustin first went into a rehab center in November 2015 and stayed until March 2016. He went home to his parents for about 10 days and then to a different rehab in Louisiana from March through September 2016. He relapsed into abuse on a two-week stay at home, subsequently getting arrested and put in jail for five days.
Manning said meth was Dustin’s “drug of choice,” and that he did not abuse opioids until March when he relapsed after being clean for six months.
“He had contacted the guy he usually would get meth from, and the guy didn’t have any at the time but said he had something better. That was heroin, and that is when it started. So it was fairly recent that he started opioids,” Manning said.
Dustin’s tortured mental state during the night was a push behind the relapse.
“Dustin was always one who had a hard time at night,” Manning said. “The night time was when his thoughts would get the best of him, and the demons would take over his thoughts. This is what would lead to him relapsing.”
When he was released from jail, he went to the original rehab he first attended and was there until the end of February of this year. He went back home once more and remained until his death in May.
Manning believes his time in rehab was beneficial as it “gave him the tools to stay sober for [six] months and he grew up a lot.”
“He was always so quick to fly off the handle and be angry if things went wrong, but when he came home this last time, he was able to control his anger, and he was a much more pleasant person to be around,” Manning said. “He had gotten a full time job, had a girlfriend, kept in touch every weekend with his buddies from rehab, and he was on the right track.”