Opioid overdose emergency room visits, hospitalizations up in Georgia

Paramedics treat a patient who overdosed on heroin in Delray Beach, Fla., on Feb. 2, 2017. Americans are more likely to die of an opioid overdose than in a car crash, according to a report by the National Safety Council that analyzed preventable deaths in 2017. Scott McIntyre/The New York Times

Preliminary state figures also show opioid overdose deaths have fallen

Emergency room visits and hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses in Georgia jumped 14 percent between 2017 and 2018, rising from 4,934 to 5,621, according to preliminary Georgia Department of Public Health figures released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

During the same time frame, deaths from such overdoses dropped statewide by nearly 12 percent, falling from 1,043 to 920. Atlanta area’s four largest counties — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — each saw fewer such deaths.

State Health Department officials said those fatality numbers are subject to change amid further review. The increase in the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations could be misleading because some patients might have been counted more than once. Still, they said the medical care provided could be one of the reasons for the drop in deaths. The state agency also pointed to several other factors, including Georgia’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, an electronic database that helps prevent over-prescribing.

“Additionally, a greater awareness of the risks of opioid addiction, better patient education and access to treatment and recovery are certainly areas we (agencies and partners collectively) hope are finding their mark among users,” Health Department spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said in an email.

“Perhaps one of the most significant impacts may be government agencies, non-government agencies, hospitals, treatment facilities, law enforcement, academia, business — all realizing they have a stake in ending the opioid epidemic in Georgia and working together toward that goal.”

Related: The fentanyl epidemic robs a Georgia family of a daughter and a mother

ExploreAJC Exclusive: Emory, Hazelden Betty Ford in talks about plan to fight opioid crisis

The Trump administration has declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency. Nationwide, drug overdoses killed about 72,000 Americans in 2017, a record number driven by increasing opioid-related deaths.

The epidemic has gotten so bad that Americans are now more likely to die from opioid overdoses than car wrecks. The opioid crisis drew grim headlines this week when police announced that a woman had been charged with murder in her 1-year-old son's overdose death in the Bronx. Two days before Christmas, the 1-year-old boy ingested a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.

More: Marietta announces new direction on opioids as overdose deaths dip

Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties are among dozens of Georgia cities and counties that have filed lawsuits against the opioid industry, seeking to recoup taxpayer expenses for costs tied to the epidemic.

In-Depth: Atlanta-area governments sue opioid industry amid deadly epidemic

For example, Fulton, according to its legal complaint, has been forced to spend millions of dollars each year on health care expenses, law enforcement and other costs.

The Georgia Public Health Department released preliminary figures showing a decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths in four Atlanta-area counties.

2017/2018/% change

Cobb 127/90/-29%

DeKalb 76/64/-16%

Fulton 133/118/-11%

Gwinnett 72/48/-33%

In Other News