Prescription drug deaths down in much of Georgia, GBI finds

Autopsies performed by the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office in 152 counties determined the rate of prescription and opioid-related deaths was lower in 2018 than the previous three years.
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Autopsies performed by the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office in 152 counties determined the rate of prescription and opioid-related deaths was lower in 2018 than the previous three years.

The number of overdose deaths caused by prescription drugs decreased in much of Georgia in 2018, according to a GBI analysis released Friday.

Autopsies performed by the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office in 152 counties determined the rate of prescription and opioid-related deaths was lower in 2018 than the previous three years, the agency said.

Overdose deaths attributed to illegal drugs, however, increased during the same period.

RELATED: Overdose deaths decline in much of Georgia

The most recent overdose statistics do not include data from autopsies conducted in several major metro Atlanta counties, including Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, which account for the largest number of overdoses in the state. Hall, Henry and Rockdale were also excluded from the GBI’s figures.

Of the 861 overdose deaths identified by the agency in 2018, 303 involved prescription drugs alone. That figure has fallen each year since 2015, when the number of overdose deaths attributed solely to prescription drugs was 441.

Of the remaining 2018 overdose deaths logged by the GBI, 441 involved only illegal drugs, and 115 were attributed to a combination of prescription and illegal drugs, authorities said.

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Of the 861 overdose deaths identified by the GBI in 2018, 303 involved prescription drugs alone. That figure has fallen each year since 2015.

Credit: GBI

Of the 861 overdose deaths identified by the GBI in 2018, 303 involved prescription drugs alone. That figure has fallen each year since 2015.
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Of the 861 overdose deaths identified by the GBI in 2018, 303 involved prescription drugs alone. That figure has fallen each year since 2015.

Credit: GBI

Credit: GBI

While opioid-related deaths may be down in recent years, the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations caused by prescription pills jumped 14 percent between 2017 and 2018, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last May.

MORE: Opioid overdose emergency room visits, hospitalizations up in Georgia

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

One possible reason for the decrease in prescription drug deaths is that fewer prescriptions are being written.

Data released last summer by the state’s Department of Public Health showed the numbers of prescriptions for opioids — such as hydrocodone and oxycodone — dropped by 13 percent between 2016 and 2018.

ALSO: Opioid prescription totals falling in Georgia amid deadly epidemic

Experts say many factors could be behind the drop in prescription overdose deaths: increasing publicity surrounding the health crisis, years-old federal guidelines for opioid dosages as well as the expansion of prevention and treatment programs.

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