Acting Cobb County District Attorney John Melvin announces new funding and tactics for addresing the opioid epidemic. (Meris Lutz/AJC)

Cobb law enforcement unveils new program to combat opioids

Top law enforcement officials in Cobb County gathered Wednesday to announce new measures to tackle the opioid crisis raging through a county that has one of the highest overdose death rates in the state.

Opioids account for a large percentage of those fatalities and the plan will include an opioid fatality review committee and support services for some defendants struggling with addiction.

John Melvin, the interim district attorney, said the initiative, funded by a $900,000 federal grant, will give individuals who would not otherwise qualify for one of the county’s accountability courts the opportunity to seek treatment.

“Cobb county has dramatically and negatively been affected by the opioid crisis,” said Melvin. “The pursuit of this grant demonstrates the commitment of this county and our agencies to address the opioid problem and to offer hope.”

Melvin made the announcement at a press conference held outside the courthouse, flanked by representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Cobb Sheriff’s Office, Public Safety Director Mike Register and Smyrna Police Chief David Lee.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just weeks after Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn pulled his department out of a joint county narcotics task force. His rhetoric was seen as a rejection of the aggressive, lock-them-up drug policy that has dominated law enforcement over the past several decades. Flynn said he was redirecting his officers to focus on “evidence-based” prevention and intervention efforts.

The chief’s comments drew criticism from the other Cobb law enforcement leaders who said the task force was already incorporating prevention measures, and several, including Melvin, reiterated themes of teamwork.

“Today’s announcement is just further evidence that we’ve always been on the side of punishing people that need punishment and helping the people that need help,” Melvin said.

Flynn, through a spokesperson, said he was unable to attend the event due to a family medical emergency but that he “totally agrees with all of his law enforcement colleagues that we need to fight the opioid crisis together.

“I look forward to seeing the results of this vital study,” Flynn said.

The DA’s office has already used the grant money to hire an investigator and case manager to look into all overdose deaths and near fatalities in the county. Cobb will use the information to go after drug supply routes while offering support services to offenders who are not considered traffickers.

County Commissioner Bob Ott said the commission also needs to know where and how to allocate resources and education as the types of drugs making their way into Cobb changes. He pointed out that recently, most deaths are a result not of heroin of of a dangerous synthetic called fentanyl.

“Our goal is to keep people from getting to these guys,” he said, gesturing to the law enforcement officials. “You have to keep up with it.”