More and more Georgians are dying of drug overdoses. Drug overdoses have become a growing epidemic both in Georgia and nationally, increasing to skyrocketing rates since the COVID-19 pandemic. The Georgia Department of Public Health reports from 2019-2021, the total number of opioid-related overdose deaths increased from 853 to 1,718, an increase of 101%. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that nearly 100,000 people die in this country every year due to drug overdose. Drug overdose deaths rose by 30% nationally during the pandemic. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid often found in drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and counterfeit pills has driven most of the rise in deaths. From 2019 to 2021, fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths increased 124%, from 614 to 1,379. Non-fatal drug overdoses are also increasing in Georgia. From 2019 to 2021, emergency department visits and hospitalizations for drug overdoses increased 10%, from 24,886 to 27,388.
The opioid crisis is a complex issue that requires a multi-pronged approach to tackle. Some new approaches are being implemented to battle this epidemic.
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a treatment approach that combines medication with behavioral therapy and counseling. MAT has been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of overdose and improving long-term recovery outcomes for people struggling with opioid addiction. Medications used in MAT, such as buprenorphine and methadone, can help reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for people to focus on their recovery.
- Harm Reduction Strategies
Harm reduction strategies aim to reduce the negative consequences of drug use, such as overdose, without necessarily requiring abstinence. Some of these strategies include providing clean needles and syringes to people who use drugs, as well as naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses. These strategies can help reduce the risk of overdose and improve the overall health of people who use drugs.
- Peer Support Programs
Peer support programs involve individuals who have experienced addiction and recovery serving as mentors to others who are struggling with addiction. Peer support programs can help reduce stigma and provide a sense of community for people in recovery, which can be crucial for maintaining sobriety. Peer support programs can also help reduce the risk of relapse and improve overall mental health.
- Alternative Pain Management Strategies
Opioids are often prescribed to manage pain, but alternative pain management strategies can be just as effective without the risk of addiction. Some of these strategies include physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and non-opioid pain medications. Encouraging the use of these alternative strategies can help reduce the number of people who become addicted to opioids in the first place.
Telemedicine involves providing healthcare services remotely, often through video conferencing or other online platforms. Telemedicine can be especially beneficial for people in rural areas or those who may have difficulty accessing in-person healthcare services. Telemedicine can also be used to provide medication-assisted treatment and counseling to people in recovery, increasing access to care and reducing the risk of relapse.
The opioid crisis is a complex issue that requires a multi-pronged approach to tackle. These new approaches, such as medication-assisted treatment, harm reduction strategies, peer support programs, alternative pain management strategies, and telemedicine, can help reduce the risk of overdose, improve recovery outcomes, and ultimately save lives. It is crucial that we continue to explore and implement these approaches to combat this epidemic