The deaths of four people in middle Georgia from opioid overdoses over two days this week is part of a rising national trend of painkiller abuse and overdoses.
The number of Georgians dying from drug poisoning rose nearly eight percent from 2014 to 2015, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The AJC used the data to create an interactive map showing the statistics for each Georgia county (see interactive map below).
Overdose deaths have jumped by 51 percent in the decade prior to 2015, the data showed.
And officials in the state expect the numbers to rise even higher.
In addition to the four deaths this week, at least 30 people were hospitalized in the Macon area and in Albany, state health officials said. Some had to be placed on ventilators.
Authorities said they believe those who died or were sickened had taken oval, yellow pills labelled as the prescription painkiller Percocet -- but the pills contained something much stronger than Percocet.
Toxicology tests are pending to identify the prime ingredient. The GBI said it received material to perform the tests on Wednesday, and that the tests will take about 24 hours to complete.
Officials on Wednesday identified one of the most recent victims, Jackson Carson Moore, 21, a Macon native.
About 1,300 people died from drug poisoning in Georgia in 2015, the data showed, with the highest concentrations of deaths in the mostly North Georgia counties of Murray, Fannin, Towns, Rabun, Franklin, Polk and Haralson counties.
The most recent data on drug deaths comes from the National Center for Health Statistics. Due to complications in determining cause of death in cases involving drugs, the numbers may underestimate the rate of overdose deaths and typically take years to report. The 2015 numbers are the most recent figures available.
Chris Hendry, chief medical officer at Navicent Health in Macon, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he had never seen this number of overdoses in such a short amount of time in Middle Georgia.
Patients are being treated with Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of overdose. State lawmakers are currently trying to expand access to overdose treatments. In January, Gov. Nathan Deal directed the Georgia Pharmacy Board to remove the opioid treatment Naloxone from the state’s list of prohibited drugs and make it available over the counter.
The Trump administration recently announced plans for a $485 million grant divided among all 50 states, including $11.7 million for Georgia, to combat painkiller and heroin overdose.
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