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Five things to know about the Atlanta area’s opioid epidemic

A new analysis released by the Atlanta Regional Commission last week showed how the opioid epidemic is killing people in parts of metro Atlanta that have previously had low rates of premature death. The driver has been prescriptions for pain-relief opioids such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, in which the patient can get hooked or in which other people steal the patient’s pills. (Hydrocodone, by the way, is the top prescription in Georgia, according to Kaiser Health News.) Now added to that, are deaths from synthetic opioids and street drugs. Those can be more powerful and more deadly than the prescription ones, but also less expensive.

Officials are straining to get a hold on the problem. Some physicians apparently still prescribe wantonly. Below are some recommendations for prevention of addiction and death, and for action in an emergency.

Naloxone, the generic form of Narcan, is a treatment for opioid overdoses. PHOTO by JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Naloxone

Naloxone is a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose if it’s given in time. The drug, often carried by first responders and caretakers of people with heroin addiction, comes in both injectable and spray form. And now in Georgia anyone can just walk up to the pharmacy and buy it in order to have some on hand. Technically, it’s still a prescription drug, but that is satisfied by giving your name and address to the pharmacy. State officials made the arrangement because of the danger of the opioid epidemic. Call the pharmacy you plan to go to first to make sure they have it in stock.

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Lock ‘em up

If you need to have opioids in the home, lock them up. According to the Council on Alcohol and Drugs, access is the No. 1 factor in the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. And 90 percent of teens who abuse pharmaceutical drugs get them from the medicine cabinet at home or a friend’s.

Toss leftovers

If you’ve taken the prescribed opioids you need and you’ve got some left over, health advocates and authorities would like you to get rid of them in order to minimize the later abuse risk of the drugs. There’s controversy over the environmental impact of flushing them down the toilet, but the FDA recommends flushing if you have no other option. Take them out of the bottle first, of course.

But most Georgians have other options, and you don’t have to wait until a big official drug take-back day. There are about 180 drop-boxes across Georgia where you can just drop in your unused medicine and be gone. In DeKalb County alone, there are 13 locations, including in university buildings, a student center lobby, a Walgreens and several police departments. Some are even open 24 hours, as at the Brookhaven and Doraville police departments. Most are only open during business hours, so be sure to check online.

If there is an overdose

Call 911. According to the group Georgia Overdose Prevention, Georgia law protects a caller to 911, as well as the overdose victim, from being arrested, charged or prosecuted for small amounts of drugs, drug paraphernalia and underage alcohol consumption and possession charges if they call 911 and stay at the scene until medical help arrives.

Resources

Georgia crisis access line: 1-800-715-4225

Drop-box locations and hours in Georgia

FDA’s guidance for throwing away drugs

The legal facts of freeing up Naloxone

Georgia Overdose Prevention

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