Re­ports show de­cline in state, county

The Covington News - - Front page - AM­BER PITTMAN apittman@cov­

Af­ter years of steadily in­creas­ing, over­dose deaths have de­clined in the state, as well as in New­ton County. Thus far, the county has seen just one death that has been un­equiv­o­cally linked the drug abuse, while the state has seen a de­crease of 8.6 per­cent from last year.

The Ge­or­gia Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion re­leased their an­nual re­port on drug over­dose deaths Tues­day, based on an anal­y­sis of au­top­sies per­formed by the Med­i­cal Ex­am­in­ers of­fice.

In 2009, the GBI re­ported that there were 670 drug over­dose deaths — 584 of them in­volv­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs or a com­bi­na­tion of pre­scrip­tion and il­licit drug use. Of those deaths, 508 were due to over­dos­ing on pre­scrip­tion drugs with the most com­mon drug found be­ing Xanax. Deaths were most preva­lent in black males be­tween the ages of 45-54, and 595 of them were ruled ac­ci­den­tal.

The next year saw an in­crease from 670 deaths caused by over­dose to 729. Again, the largest num­bers were for pre­scrip­tion drug over­doses (560), the most com­mon be­ing Xanax. While the age and gen­der of those over­dos­ing the most stayed the same, the eth­nic­ity changed, with more than 90 per­cent of over­dose deaths be­ing white males be­tween the ages of 45-54.

How­ever, in 2011, the GBI re­ported that these deaths have gone down, af­ter an­a­lyz­ing au­top­sies per­formed in 152 Ge­or­gia coun­ties, in­clud­ing New­ton. Com­pared to 2010 num­bers, there was an 8.6 per­cent de­crease in over­dose deaths.

In 2011, there were 664 drug over­doses, 512 which in­volved pre­scrip­tion drugs, 82 in­volv­ing il­licit drugs and 70 that were a com­bi­na­tion of both pre­scrip­tion and il­licit drugs.

Once again, the over­dose deaths are most com­mon in white males be­tween the ages of 45-54, and of the 664 to­tal deaths, 91 per­cent (603) were ruled ac­ci­den­tal.

“We re­ally don’t know

for sure why there’s a de­crease,” said GBI spokesman John Bankhead. “There have been ef­forts over the past cou­ple of years by physi­cians, phar­ma­cists, the state leg­is­la­ture and law en­force­ment to ad­dress the pre­scrip­tion drug prob­lem, and we are hop­ing these ef­forts will re­sult in a con­tin­u­ing de­cline in over­dose deaths. But these ef­forts can only go so far in ad­dress­ing the prob­lem since the ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with the in­di­vid­ual pa­tient.”

Ac­cord­ing to New­ton County Coro­ner Tommy Davis, most of the county’s over­dose deaths are re­lated to the abuse of pre­scrip­tion drugs. And al­though there are still sev­eral cases that are pend­ing au­topsy re­ports from the GBI, Davis said there does ap­pear to be a marked de­crease in over­dose-re­lated deaths from 2011 to date, with New­ton County log­ging in just one this year thus far. Last year, roughly 10 per­cent of all deaths in the county that were logged by the coro­ner’s of­fice (about 200 deaths), were due to over­dose.

“We do work mul­ti­ple deaths ev­ery year that are re­lated to pre­scrip­tion drugs,” said Davis. “A lot of times peo­ple think that if one is good, two are bet­ter and that’s not the case. Il­licit drug users are us­ing the drugs to get high. They think it’s a safer al­ter­na­tive to il­licit drugs be­cause it is pre­scribed, not know­ing the toxic af­fects they will have on them if abused.”

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