By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
How challenges are changing in battle against opioid epidemic
Judge, law enforcement discuss evolution of fight at UNG forum
09262018_OPIOD_1.max-1200x675.jpg
The University of North Georgia Criminal Justice Department hosts an “Opioid Problems in Our Community” seminar Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, on the Gainesville campus. The event features Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials and others working in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. - photo by Scott Rogers

Roughly a decade ago, states surrounding Georgia with doctors overprescribing painkiller medication passed tough laws that pushed these “pill mills” into the Peach State.

“To give you an example of how bad this was, we raided a pill mill in Bartow County that had so many people coming in to get their prescriptions filled for illegitimate purposes that they had to have a security guard in the parking lot to direct traffic. They had busloads of people coming down from Kentucky to get prescriptions filled for the opioids,” said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan in a forum Tuesday at the University of North Georgia. Keenan and others gathered Tuesday morning for the Opioid Problems in Our Community forum hosted by the university’s criminal justice department.

09262018_OPIOD_6.max-1200x675.jpg
Vernon M. Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, speaks on the opioid crisis at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, as the university Criminal Justice Department hosts an “Opioid Problems in Our Community” seminar. The event features Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials and others working in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. - photo by Scott Rogers

As the state legislatures have worked on tough laws for pain clinics and prescription painkillers, the users moved to heroin, which can often result in overdose or death.

GBI Medical Examiner Jonathan Eisenstat said the opioid problem has caused a strain on death investigators, who are now doing roughly 350 autopsies a year per doctor.

“If you’re doing 350 autopsies, you have much less time to do the casework, the reports, talk to the families and things are starting to get delayed. And that causes a delay in the law enforcement as well,” he said.

Eisenstat also said those with addiction returning to their drug of choice after some sort of hiatus will take the same dosage to which they were accustomed, though the tolerance has dropped.

“A bulk of the cases we are seeing are people who have just been released from prison or just came out of detox. They shoot up or they take the same amount that they took before, and they’re dead because they’re not able to handle that amount.”

Eisenstat said the analogues of fentanyl, an opioid drug 100 times stronger than morphine, keep changing at the hands of chemists in clandestine labs, making them impossible to test for until it is identified by the chemistry lab.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, who presides over the Drug Court in Hall and Dawson counties, shared more positive information of his “friends” and program participants, who came from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Deal said a Carl Vinson Institute of Government study showed each accountability court graduate had a $22,129 positive impact to the state in fiscal year 2017. 

Started in 2001, Drug Court is a minimum 24-month program involving drug screens, monthly court visits and counseling.

09262018_OPIOD_3.original.jpg
Judge Jason Deal speaks Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus during a “Opioid Problems in Our Community” event hosted by the UNG Criminal Justice Department. The event features Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials and others working in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. - photo by Scott Rogers