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‘Perfect storm’: An opioid menace like never before

There’s no real profile for the victims. They don’t appear to fit into any particular economic, racial or ethnic grouping.

The rising numbers of opioid overdoses “seem to hit everyone,’’ says Dr. Dan McCollum, an emergency medicine physician at Augusta University Medical Center. “It hits all economic strata.’’

Even age is no longer the factor it used to be. Overdose patients coming into ERs are increasingly middle-aged and older, as compared to youthful drug users in past decades, he said Friday.

“We’re seeing a great deal of fentanyl being used,’’ he added. “The scary thing is that is hits so fast. It can stop your breathing so quickly.’’

The opioid overdose stats have jumped statewide, alarming public health and medical experts.

Georgia saw a big jump in opioid-related overdose deaths last year, fueled by a doubling of the number of fatalities involving fentanyl, according to data from the state Department of Public Health released last week.

Overall, opioid overdose deaths rose by 36% in 2020. And those increases have continued in the early months of this year, with fentanyl again a major driver.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a large role in the overdose spike, experts say.

The pandemic has created “a perfect storm’’ for the opioid crisis, said Hannah Cooper of Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that’s 50 times more potent than heroin. It is a prescription drug that is made and used illegally, and is commonly found at the street level in counterfeit pills or powder form. Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs.

“Just about everything, from cocaine to meth to heroin, has fentanyl and (its derivative) carfentanil in it,’’ Neil Campbell, executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, said Friday. “There are some really dangerous chemicals out there that are killing people.’’

The areas of the state with the highest rates of opioid deaths last year include Northwest Georgia, the East Central district based in Augusta, and the Cobb/Douglas health district in metro Atlanta.

This year, a high number of emergency room visits related to opioid overdoses have come in other areas as well, including Macon/Bibb County and Carroll County in west Georgia.

Suspected overdoses in Chatham County numbered 368 in 2020, but this year, from Jan. 1 to April 19, there have already been 336 suspected overdoses, the Savannah Morning News reported.

“I don’t think that there is any overwhelming demographic for drug use or overdose. It attacks all,” Chatham Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns told the newspaper. “It’s nondiscriminatory.”

The spike has occurred nationally as well. The CDC reported that more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months before the pandemic, the CDC said, the latest numbers suggested an acceleration of overdose deaths as the virus spread.

Cooper, who is Rollins Chair of Substance Use Disorders at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, said fentanyl had already become more widespread than ever when COVID hit.

Because of the pandemic shutdowns, she said, that availability of the dangerous drug was coupled with a decrease in access to drug treatment and social services.

In addition, Cooper said, the pandemic’s “shock to the economic and social systems’’ helped lead to isolation, creating depression and anxiety, which can increase drug use.

She called for wider access to Naloxone, a medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose, and to test strips for users to detect whether fentanyl is present in a drug.

Drug treatment services, Cooper added, should be available “on demand,’’ and the problem of homelessness should be addressed.

The opioid crisis “is creating tremendous suffering in our communities,’’ she said. “Georgia is trying to mount more of a response to overdoses,’’ Cooper added.

Addictions appear to be rising across the board, she and others say. McCollum said he’s seeing an increase in alcohol-related problems as well.

“We’re seeing a great deal of suicidality,’’ he said. “We’re going to have to approach (the crisis) from multiple directions.’’

Local agencies working together to bring back Explorer program

Law enforcement agencies in Polk County have teamed up to create a stronger youth Explorer program for the youth in the area.

Law Enforcement Exploring is a hands-on program open to young men and women who have completed the sixth grade through 20 years of age. It caters to those who are interested in a career in law enforcement or a related field in the criminal justice system.

The program offers young adults a personal awareness of the criminal justice system through training, practical experiences, competition, community service, and networking opportunities and other activities. Additionally, the program promotes personal growth through character development, respect for the rule of law, physical fitness, good citizenship and patriotism.

Representatives from the Cedartown Police Department, the Rockmart Police Department, the Polk County Police Department and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office are hosting an informational meet and greet event on Monday, July 26 at 6 p.m. The meet and greet will be held in the county commission meeting room, located behind the Polk County Police Department at 73 Clines Ingram Jackson Road in Cedartown.

Local law enforcement officials encourage youth who are interested in learning more about careers in the criminal justice system to attend the meeting.

Participants can get firsthand experience into what it’s like to be an officer of the law. Law Enforcement Exploring combines some classroom training with in-the-field lessons and more.

Standard Journal Area Calendar of Events from the Wednesday, July 14, 2021 edition

The American Red Cross will hold a blood drive at First Baptist Church of Rockmart, 311 E. Elm St., on July 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on July 22 from 2-7 p.m. The Rockmart Masonic Lodge will be serving barbecue sandwiches to all donors on July 22. There is a critical need for blood at this time due to many traveling and on vacation.

The Hess Family will be singing July 17 from 12-2 p.m. at Cedartown Market and Shops, 591 West Ave., Cedartown.

A fish fry is scheduled for July 24 in Seaborn Jones Park in Rockmart as a fundraiser for God’s Loving Angels. The local group organizes the annual Feed the Community event every November. The event is from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will also include hotdogs for sale. The day will also include live entertainment.

Sons of the American Legion Post 12 in Rockmart is hosting a $5 All-You-Can-Eat spaghetti and meatball supper the third Wednesday of the month from 5-7 p.m. at 1 Veterans Circle. Each meal comes with garlic bread, salad and tea, and all proceeds got to veterans’ and children’s programs.

Several local law enforcement agencies are scheduled to host an informational meet and greet event on Monday, July 26, about the new youth Explorer program. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the county commission meeting room, located behind the Polk County Police Department at 73 Clines Ingram Jackson Road in Cedartown.

The annual Youth Summerfest/Stockings of Love event is scheduled for Saturday, July 31, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Northwest Park in Cedartown. The drive-thru event will include free backpacks of school supplies, a sack lunch, free haircuts and optional clothing for kids. Physical distancing will be observed. There will not be Church Olympics or transportation for this year’s event. For more information contact Courtney Ripoll at 770-689-7838.

The Office of Exceptional Students of Polk School District is available to assist with the identification of children with disabilities and provision of a free appropriate public education beginning at the age of 3 through the age of 21. If you suspect your child is experiencing any developmental delays or you suspect your child might have a disability and would like assistance or for more information about services available through Polk School District, contact Polk School District Exceptional Student Services, 770-684-8718.

Tallatoona CAP is accepting appointments for the LIHEAP Cooling Assistance Program for households with seniors age 65 or older. Appointments are on a first-come, first-serve basis and can me made online at www.tallatoonacap.org or by calling 770-817-4666 or 770-773-7730 and selecting option 2. Applicants must qualify based on the FY 2021 annual income guidelines.

The Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living holds a COVID-19 Peer Support call every Monday at 2 p.m. via the Zoom website and by phone. For the link and password, or if you need assistance, contact Christina Holtzclaw at 628-246-1825 or choltzclaw@nwgacil.org.

Kresge United Methodist Church’s clothing bank is open the first Thursday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at McBrayer Furniture at 502 Main St. in Cedartown. The church offers free clothing for ages birth to 5 years old.

Want to get your event or announcement on the calendar? E-mail JStewart@polkstandardjournal.com.

Want to get your event or announcement on the calendar? E-mail JStewart@polkstandardjournal.com.