Opioid-related deaths increased 45% in Northwest Georgia

·2 min read

Jul. 29—The number of opioid-related deaths in Georgia increased sharply in 2020, continuing a trend the Georgia Department of Public Health says first began with the increased use and misuse of prescription opioids in 2010.

By the time the opioid crisis was declared a national public health emergency in October 2017, almost two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in Georgia were attributed to opioids. State data now shows that deaths linked to pain-relieving drugs have continued to increase in recent years, particularly in Northwest Georgia, where the rate of opioid-related deaths is as high as twice the state average.

The Northwest Georgia Health District — which contains Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Haralson, Paulding, Polk and Walker counties — reported 80 opioid-related fatalities in 2019. That number increased by 45% in 2020, with 116 reported deaths linked to opioid use.

In order to provide a baseline for counties with varying population sizes, the state calculates opioid-related death rates per 100,000 people. The statewide average in Georgia for 2020 was 12.2 deaths per 100,000. Of the 10 counties in the Northwest Georgia Health District, seven saw rates higher than that.

With a population of less than 30,000, Haralson County more than doubled the state average with a reported 26.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

According to the data, Bartow and Walker counties ranked second and third for the highest rate of opioid-related deaths per 100,000 in the health district, with 22 and 14 fatalities reported respectively in 2020. Bartow County saw a reported 17 opioid-related deaths in 2019, while Walker County reported nine.

County death rates related to opioid use were not available for Gordon, Chattooga and Dade counties, where four or fewer fatal opioid-related overdoses were reported in 2020, too few for a statistically relevant rate.

While reasons for the sudden increase in opioid-related deaths in the Northwest Georgia region over the past year have not been identified specifically, the health department's Drug Surveillance Unit has noted that the misuse of illicit opioids, particularly fentanyl, has been a driving factor since 2013.

Since 2018, the number of deaths specifically linked to the use of fentanyl doubled in Northwest Georgia. From 2019 to 2020, data shows that deaths involving use of the drug more than doubled statewide.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at 423-757-6327 or kcaulder@timesfreepress.com.

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