AG Chris Carr: We Must Continue Efforts to Strengthen State's Response to the Opioid Epidemic

Chris Carr

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

As the former Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, I am very proud of the fact that our state is the top state in the nation in which to do business. The recognition highlights the collaborative mindset we apply to economic development in our state, and it highlights the many opportunities that our Georgia families enjoy as a result of having a thriving business environment.

As Georgia’s Attorney General, I have pledged to take that collaborative spirit and apply it to our response to the opioid crisis.

In October of 2017, our office launched the Statewide Opioid Task Force to provide an infrastructure of communication between organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors that are combating and are impacted by this issue. At our first meeting, we started by asking our members three questions:

  1. What are you currently doing to combat the opioid epidemic?

  2. How can we leverage the partnerships in this room to strengthen our state’s response?

  3. If there are gaps, how can we work together to fill those gaps?

The answers to these questions spurred action in many areas.

By utilizing the partnerships forged at the first meeting of the Task Force, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Department of Community Health co-sponsored a Strategic Plan Working Group symposium at the close of 2017. The meeting turned out over 200 stakeholders who came together to share expertise and put pen to paper on recommendations to strengthen our response in the following areas: Prevention and Education; Law Enforcement and Control; Data and Surveillance; the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and Treatment and Recovery.

Additionally, we learned from our first meeting that we lacked a comprehensive, statewide marketing and communications campaign. After putting our heads together, we decided to launch Dose of Reality in Georgia. The multi-faceted website provides in-depth informational support for healthcare personnel, students, parents, businesses, educators, coaches, caregivers and seniors. Other tabs walk visitors through the dangers associated with opioid abuse, best practices for safe acquisition, appropriate use, safe storage and safe disposal, a variety of treatment options and support for community outreach events. Interested parties can order and download Dose of Reality materials from the site’s ordering portal free-of-charge.

On April 9 at our second Task Force meeting, we focused on how the epidemic is impacting our youth and young adults. What we learned from our partners was sobering. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome are plaguing our infant population, and we are losing babies at an alarming rate to substance abuse. In fact, based on the most recent data available through the Department of Public Health, drug toxicity is the second leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths in Georgia to motor vehicle crashes—opiates account for approximately 38 percent of the substances identified.

There is much to be done and gaps to be filled, but we are making progress.

Recently, Georgia was one of 13 states receiving the highest mark from the National Safety Council for taking comprehensive actions to eliminate opioid overdoses, improving from a "failing" designation in 2016.

How did we do this in such a short time? We chose to approach the fight together. Thanks to across-the-board buy in from Governor Deal and the passionate stakeholders working on this issue, our state’s response is growing stronger each day. The Statewide Opioid Task Force is glad to do our part in this effort, and we will continue working until there are no more tears, no more deaths and no more heartache as a result of the opioid epidemic.