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Has Macon cut into opioid overdoses with more access to naloxone? What we know

Macon Telegraph - 2/27/2024

Feb. 27—Reality Check is a Telegraph series holding those in power to account and shining a light on their decisions. Have a suggestion for a future story? Email mynews@macon.com.

The number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Macon-Bibb County has more than doubled the statewide total since 2019, according to the latest report from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The statewide increase in opioid-related deaths prompted Dr. Kathleen Tooney to sign a statewide standing order for naloxone in March 2019, and the product is being made redily available in public places around Bibb County. Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids, such as heroin, morphine and oxycodone.

A 2022 Oasis report states that Macon-Bibb County had an age-adjusted death rate of 19.5 per 100,000 people, compared to 18.6 statewide.

In May 2022, the county filed a lawsuit against hotel owners of Macon Inn due to the excessive number of emergency calls reporting a suspected drug overdose at the location.

In November 2022, a judge ordered the hotel to keep a minimum of 10 doses of Narcan available at the front desk along with posted instructions on how to use the life-saving nasal spray, according to the consent order. Narcan is a brand-name product that administers naloxone.

When reporters visited the hotel in March 2023, it only had one box of two nasal sprays, according to The Macon Newsroom. The hotel hasn't returned calls to provide information on current use of the product.

Marissa Cooling, overdose surveillance and planning specialist for the Georgia Department of Public Health'sNorth Central Health District, said the Food and Drug Administration first approved over-the-counter naloxone, Narcan brand, in March 2023 with it showing up in local stores later that year.

"We began seeing it appear on the shelves of grocery stores and pharmacies in Macon-Bibb County in September of 2023," she said.

HAS IT HELPED?

To date, Cooling said the NCHD has distributed naloxone kits to first responders, schools, universities, libraries, hotels, social service agencies, shelters, gas stations, restaurants, bars, and various other businesses.

The kits contain four doses of naloxone, disposable gloves and a CPR mask.

"We have also distributed kits to people at risk for overdose and family members of those at risk for overdose," she said.

Cooly said Bibb County's opioid-related overdose rate remains higher than the statewide rate.

"We were lower than the state age-adjusted rate in all drug overdoses in 2022, but higher than the state rate in opioid overdoses," she said.

A spokesperson for the Bibb County School District said middle schools and high schools have doses on hand but have not had to use them.

Captain Derrick Henderson with the Macon-Bibb County Sheriff's office said he has seen a benefit to having Narcan doses and kits on-site.

"As law enforcement officers, we have seen many cases related to drug overdoses and Narcan has helped possibly stabilize a person until medical EMTs have arrived on scene," he said.

Macon-Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said there were 29 deaths due to overdose in 2023, up from 24 in 2024 and 25 in 2021.

WHAT'S BEING DONE

Cooly said the department will continue to address the issue and implement prevention.

"The NCHD is committed to addressing the overdose crisis through building and fostering multi-sector partnerships, providing comprehensive and timely overdose data analysis, and implementing prevention and response interventions within at-risk counties and among high-risk individuals," she said.

Henderson said the sheriff's office continues to combat the issue and work with other agencies to educate the community about the issue.

"BCSO has continued to combat official overdose cases related to deaths," he said. "Investigators attempt to collect any evidence that may lead to the person or persons involved in the distribution of illegal drugs."

"BCSO partners with the Department of Public Health to speak at town halls throughout the community to educate the citizens on the dangers of fentanyl, the availability of naloxone, Narcan, how to administer Narcan and where to seek help for opioid addiction," Henderson said.

For more information, visit the Georgia Department of Public Health's website.

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