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Fulton County creates new opioid coordinator position

Lynnette Allen
Lynnette Allen

Fulton County has created a position that focuses on combating the opioid crisis, the latest development in a long fight against the growing drug epidemic.

Behavioral health professional Lynnette Allen was appointed opioid coordinator this week by County Manager Dick Anderson, who called her “a natural fit.” Allen will serve as the point of contact between Fulton and community organizations, courts and state and federal officials.

The position's creation seems to follow a national trend, coming six months after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered all 94 U.S. Attorney offices to designate a coordinator to customize federal law enforcement's anti-opioid strategy in their district.

Allen said she will begin her new job by looking for resource gaps in the opioid abuse and misuse prevention plan. The plan included awareness campaigns, a network of prescription drug drop boxes and a text crisis line for teens.

“One main goal is to provide an effective approach to coordinating activities,” Allen told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week.

According to the office of state Attorney General Chris Carr, Georgia is among the top 11 states in opioid overdose deaths, and 55 Georgia counties have an overdose rate higher than the national average — with Fulton at the top.

READ | Opioids drive increase in metro Atlanta fatal overdoses

Last year, Fulton was the first Georgia county to join litigation against drug manufacturers for their role in the opioid crisis. The county has funded naloxone for first responders since 2016, the year the Medical Examiner's office identified 154 opioid-related deaths — a 156 percent increase since 2010, officials said.

Allen has a community health education degree from the University of South Carolina and has worked for the county since 2006, most recently as a program evaluation specialist with the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities. She’ll report to the department’s Director LaTrina Foster.

The new position is designed to drive down the impact the opioid crisis has had on Fulton, and to be a leader in Georgia, Board of Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said. He isn’t aware of opioid coordinator positions in other metro Atlanta countries. For some counties, like Gwinnett, the health department is a state agency.

Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott said while Cobb doesn't have an official opioid coordinator, he's doing the same kind of role without the title. In the past few months, Ott has gone on research trips to look at the Safe Station program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and met with Missy Owen of Cobb's Davis Direction Foundation.

A recent data analysis mapping out the opioid death toll in the 10-county Atlanta region appeared to confirm what experts have identified as the "deadly triangle" — stark rises in opioid deaths in the northern Atlanta suburbs previously known for quiet, affluent subdivisions and competitive schools.

In 2016, Cobb County was second only to Fulton in the number of overdose deaths.

READ | Fentanyl and opioid crisis: What is fentanyl drug, fentanyl patch

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The initiative was created to find help for vulnerable children amidst the opioid crisis.