Opioid crisis fallout feared
As opioid addiction is being defined as a national health crisis and a local public nuisance, a group of Floyd County residents who depend on prescription narcotics to control their pain are keeping a watchful eye on developments.
“The opioid problem is not in the (chronic pain) community, but we’re labeled with it,” said Anitra Duke, a gastroparesis patient with multiple ailments that require regular medication under a pain management program.
Floyd County ranks in the top five Georgia counties for the number of opioid prescriptions issued per person, according to an analysis by a local law firm handling a class-action suit against manufacturers. The Rome and Floyd County commissions are parties to the suit and officials are working to address the epidemic locally.
The concern is that use of prescribed painkillers — such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone — can easily lead to addiction, with patients seeking illegal substitutes on the street when their prescriptions run out.
County Commissioners want to create a task force to look at ways to stem the tide and they’re mulling the membership, possibly with Floyd Against Drugs at the helm.
Research by County Clerk Elrod turned up coalitions in other communities that range from health professionals, court officials and police to teachers, faith leaders and employers.
Duke said it’s important to remember, in crafting policy, that there also are people who legitimately need the pain medication. Members of her support group, Faces of GP Alliance, are fearful their needs may be marginalized.
“The problem in the county with narcotics is horrific,” she noted, “and we want to help.”
Since the epidemic was recognized a few years ago, restrictions have been placed on the use of opioids. With an eye to eliminating “doctor shopping,” Georgia hospitals are now required to check a statewide database before issuing prescriptions to patients.
And Sheila Bennett, chief of patient care services at Floyd Medical Center, told County Commissioners that prescriptions are written for just three days at a time, except in the case of terminal illness, cancer and chronic pain.
Duke said she has hopes that medical marijuana can replace the narcotics she and so many in her group depend on. Prescriptions are legal in Georgia for certain conditions. But the General Assembly has yet to legalize buying or selling it and it’s against federal law to bring it across state lines.