Overdoses killed a record 70,237 Americans across the nation in 2017. That number fell by 4% to 67,367 in 2018. Georgia was among 14 states where the drug overdose death rate dropped during that timeframe. Opioid-related overdose deaths fell by 17% in the Peach State between 2017 and 2018, from 1,051 to 876.
A substantial drop in prescriptions for opioids, including hydrocodone and oxycodone, in Georgia and the increasing prevalence of Narcan — an overdose reversal medication — are factors, said Jim Langford, executive director of the Georgia Prevention Project, an Atlanta-based drug abuse prevention group.
“We are still analyzing the data to see how much of that is related to actual less use — or is it just that we have done a better job of reviving people who have overdosed?” he said.
Another big factor is a state law requiring Georgia doctors and dentists to check a database to see what prescriptions patients have recently filled before prescribing them opioids and other drugs, said Dr. John Downey, who treats pain patients in Augusta. Called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, the database aids doctors in identifying patients who already have been prescribed dangerous amounts or combinations of drugs.
“In 20 seconds, you can see a list of their medicines and their providers and when they got their last prescriptions filled,” said Downey, who leads a committee overseeing Georgia’s PDMP. “It is invaluable as far taking good care of patients that are in pain.”
There were also some troubling signs in the federal statistics released this week. Between 2017 and 2018, the U.S. death rate tied to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids jumped by 10%. Provisional data show it rose through June of last year as well. The overdose death rate more than tripled for cocaine and more than quadrupled for psychostimulants — mostly methamphetamine — from 2012 to 2018.
Dr. Justine Welsh, who directs Emory Healthcare’s addiction services, noted the U.S. suicide death rate per 100,000 people rose between 2017 and 2018 from 14.0 to 14.2.
“We need more attention and focus on addressing suicide,” she said, “including access to affordable mental health and substance-related treatment.”
Americans were expected to live 78.7 years in 2018, an increase from 78.6 in 2017, the National Center for Health Statistics announced this week. Women were expected to live 81.2 years, five years longer than men.