The Opioid Crisis in Georgia 

stock photo of Savannah, Georgia

Pinnacle Treatment Centers owns and operates seven treatment facilities to help communities and families address the opioid crisis in the state of Georgia. To find a location near you, click this link:

Our Locations: Georgia

To learn more about our newest location in Georgia offering effective, evidence-based treatment for opioid used disorder (OUD) and substance use disorder (SUD), please navigate to the blog section of our website and read this release:

Pinnacle Treatment Centers: HealthQwest Location in Canton, GA Now Open

We’re optimistic we can help individuals, communities, and families in Georgia meet the challenges presented by the overdose epidemic and overdose crisis. For people who aren’t familiar with the facts about the opioid crisis, we’ll offer a brief history, then report on how Georgia is addressing the crisis.

The Opioid Crisis in the United States: An Overview

Six years ago, the Trump Administration issued a White House proclamation declaring the increasing rates of opioid addiction and overdose a national public health emergency. That important announcement outlined plans to allocate over six billion dollars in support for program initiatives to increase prevention efforts, expand treatment infrastructure, reduce barriers to treatment, disrupt the pipeline of illicit opioids arriving from other countries, and enhance harm reduction initiatives in rural, suburban, and urban areas across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identifies three phases, also called waves, that we now call to the opioid epidemic or the opioid crisis. These waves – and the significant pain and suffering they’ve caused – are the reason the White House declared this situation a national emergency.

Wave One

This resulted from a significant increase in prescriptions for opioid analgesics, beginning in the early 1990s. By the end of the 1990s, the prescription increase resulted in a dramatic spike in fatal overdose nationwide. This trend persisted until around 2010.

Wave Two

By 2010, public officials adjusted regulations and placed serious restrictions on long-term opioid prescriptions. While this did reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, it had an unexpected negative consequence: a phenomenon now called the prescription to addiction pathway. Many people developed opioid use disorder (OUD) while using prescription medication. When the new rules decreased access to opioid medication, a significant number turned to illicit opioid use with street drugs like heroin. The result: a nationwide spike in fatal heroin overdose.

Third Wave

 Early in the 2010s – around 2012 – something happened: an influx of the illicit opioid fentanyl into the illegal drug supply in the U.S. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. In 2016 CDC data showed that just over thirty percent of overdose fatalities involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Fourth Wave

Although not officially labeled by the CDC, expert observers – see articles here and here – believe we’re now in the fourth wave of the crisis. This wave is characterized by polysubstance misuse, the presence of fentanyl in black market opioids and other prescription medications, an increase in co-occurring disorders – simultaneous mental health and substance use disorders – and a combination of factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Opioid Crisis: Impact on Georgia

In the State of Georgia, public officials applied funds to enlist hundreds of stakeholders statewide in a series of study groups to design a plan to mitigate the extensive damage caused by opioid overdose and substance addiction. This effort resulted in establishing The Opioid and Substance Misuse Response Program as a new, semi-permanent program in the Georgia Department of Public Health. Operating under the Division of Health Protection, the new approach included funding for:

  • Prevention programs
  • Education programs
  • Enhanced collection of data
  • Improved communication/reporting of data
  • Programs to monitor prescription drugs
  • Law enforcement efforts to control supply
  • Expansion of programs for SUD treatment

The White House announcement – and the subsequent response in Georgia – came at a crucial time. The opioid crisis was almost two decades old, and despite serious efforts to reduce the increasing opioid overdose and addiction rates nationwide, we were not making adequate progress, as a nation. We’ll talk about the steps Georgia took to use this federal money below, which is an important topic now, because the state just received the first 13-million-dollar payment of 636 million dollars allocated to the state in settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors, including McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Johnson & Johnson.

First, though, we’ll share the most recent information on the opioid crisis in Georgia, which will foreground the importance of allocating these funds where they can help the most people as quickly as possible. We collected this data from the Georgia Department of Public Health Opioid and Substance Misuse Response publication, “The Georgia Opioid Strategic Planning, Multi-Cultural Needs Assessment.”

 Overdose Crisis in Georgia: Essential Facts

  • 2010 to 2020:
    • Opioid overdose fatalities rose by 207%
  • 2019 to 2021:
    • Opioid overdose fatalities rose by 101%
    • 2019: 853 deaths
    • 2021: 1,718 deaths
  • 2019 to 2021:
    • Fentanyl-involved overdose fatalities rose by 124%
    • 2019: 614 deaths
    • 2021: 1379 deaths
  • 2021:
    • Total overdose fatalities: 2,390
    • Opioids: 71%
    • Fentanyl-involved: 57%

Finally, data shows that between 2019 and 2021:

  • Non-fatal drug overdose rates spiked
  • Hospitalizations and emergency room visits for overdose increased by 10%
  • Authorities reported a spike in fentanyl in illicit drug confiscated by law enforcement

All this information points to one thing: the opioid crisis has caused significant harm in Georgia. We know that evidence-based treatment is the most effective solution to the opioid epidemic, and our message for people in Georgia is simple: we’re ready to help.

Plans for the Future: How Georgia Will Allocate Federal and Settlement Funding

The opioid response program created by the state included two parts: first, an extensive survey and interview effort to gauge the need of the people at immediate risk. Second, they commissioned a study by a private firm to assess the overall readiness of the state behavioral health infrastructure, managed by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). We’ll share the results of the survey and interview process, then the result of the independent behavioral health audit/assessment.

Opioid Crisis Surveys and Interviews: What Officials Leaned

During this process, a majority of participants noted:

  • Judgment, stigma, and prejudice while seeking support or seeking treatment and prevention resources
  • A lack of empathy and compassion on the part of counselors/therapists – even those working in SUD and addiction
  • An absence of culturally informed care that’s responsive to the various needs of the diverse cultures represented in Georgia.
  • Emotional pain is one of the main reasons people develop addiction issues
  • Spirituality is an essential part of the treatment and healing process.

Based on these interviews, the planning teams recommended structural, relational, and transformational changes:

Structural Needs:

  • Include programs for people who misuse more than one substance, called polysubstance misuse
  • Implement safe needle exchange programs
  • Increase basic medical support for underserved communities
  • Reduce barriers to support and care for OUD, SUD, and mental health disorders
  • Increase access to Narcan for first responders, people at risk, and the general public
  • Increase housing support, vocational, support, and food support for at-risk populations

Relational Needs:

  • Implement culturally appropriate support programs
  • Work to create treatment programs matched to individual need
  • Increase awareness about the need for expanded SUD support
  • Expand programs non-English speakers
  • Expand peer support among immigrant groups, and smaller cultural and demographic groups

Transformational Needs:

  • Reduce and/or eliminate stigma around SUD, SUD treatment, opioid use disorder (OUD), and OUD treatment
  • Address the problem of overprescribing medication to older adults
  • Implement an integrated, holistic approach to SUD treatment and support
  • Expand harm reduction programs
  • Expand training for all physicians in identifying the signs and symptoms of substance use disorder, especially opioid use disorder.

Now let’s look at the results of the independent assessment for the DBHDD. This assessment will help the state government allocate funds over the next ten years.

  • The Georgia behavioral health system has serious staffing shortages
  • Georgia will need at least five new behavioral health crisis centers by 2025, and a total of eight more by 2032
  • Facilities must include:
    • 24 crisis stabilization beds
    • 16 temporary observation chairs
  • Need is greatest in three areas:
    • Northwest Georgia
    • Athens area
    • Metro Atlanta area

Authorities estimate they can meet these needs with the funding from the federal government and the substantial settlement agreements with opioid manufacturers/distributors we mention above.

Managing the Fourth Wave: Help for Co-Occurring Disorders and Polysubstance Use

The fourth wave of the opioid crisis presents a new set of challenges. Fentanyl creates a serious complication both because of its potency and the fact that drug traffickers combine it with non-opioid medications. In addition, the increase in rates of co-occurring disorders complicates matters. A person with a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder receives a dual diagnosis for co-occurring disorders.

For people with OUD and a mental health disorder – i.e. co-occurring disorders – the best available treatment is a combination of:

  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
    • Includes medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD): buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Individual and groups counseling
  • Social support
  • Peer support
  • Lifestyle changes

Treatment with MAT at Pinnacle includes all of the above. Treatment at Pinnacle is about more than the medication: it’s about treating the entire person. Our skilled and experienced team of treatment professionals give people the tools they need to grow and thrive in recovery.

Studies show that holistic, integrated MAT programs benefit patients in the following ways:

  • Decreased use of opioids
  • Reduced likelihood of relapse
  • Decreased interaction with criminal justice system
  • Improve function in family, work, school, and social life
  • Reduced overall opioid-related death

To learn more about medication-assisted treatment at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, we encourage you to spend time reading these articles:

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Suboxone Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Medication-Assisted Treatment: Methadone Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

If you – or a friend or family member – need treatment and support for opioid use disorder (OUD) or another substance problem, please contact us today. Remember: the earlier a person who needs OUD treatment gets treatment, the better their chances of attaining long-term recovery.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.