Opioids come in natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic forms. Morphine is a natural opioid derived from the opium poppy. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are semi-synthetic, and fentanyl is synthetic. Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is a super-narcotic that can easily be made in the lab. Accordingly, fentanyl is increasingly being combined with heroin and other drugs. Even in very small amounts, Fentanyl can be deadly.
Highly addictive prescriptions, such as Percoset and OxyContin, are also increasingly acting as gateways to street drugs such as heroin, which is likely cheaper and may be easier to acquire. Factors such as these are contributing to overdose death rates that are increasing at such an alarming pace that the President has officially declared a national public health emergency.
Georgia is amongst the top 11 states with the most opioid overdose deaths. 55 of Georgia’s counties have higher rates of overdose deaths than the US national average. Georgia’s Attorney General office ties the vast majority of overdose deaths to controlled substance prescriptions. For example, in the year 2013, 461 deaths were caused by prescriptions, compared to 106 deaths from illicit drugs. The following year, 459 deaths were caused by prescriptions while 180 were from illicit drugs. Not surprisingly, “the total number of opioid doses prescribed in Georgia patients surpassed 541 million. To put that in perspective, that is approximately 54 doses for every man, woman and child in Georgia.”
Yet Georgia is taking action. According to Georgia Health News, the state is now “receiving the highest mark from the National Safety Council for taking comprehensive actions to eliminate opioid overdoses and help protect residents.” Georgia is implementing a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program which will help reduce duplicate and overprescription of controlled substances. Through an electronic database, a patient’s controlled substance prescription history will be made available to prescribers and pharmacists alike to reduce the risk of abuse.