SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - This week, the White House announced new grants to combat the opioid crisis nationwide.
Right here in Coastal Georgia, nearly $850,000 will go to five health and medical centers to prevent and treat substance use disorders.
State Representative Ron Stephens says Georgia leaders are also involved in this fight. He says on the local front, they are moving certain opioids to a more restrictive class, limiting the amount of the drug physicians can prescribe, and implementing more random drug tests for pharmacists and health care providers. The aggressive approach to ending the opioid crisis does have a setback.
“The bad side is, if you are a chronic arthritic or really need an opioid, it makes it more difficult for those folks to get it,” Rep. Stephens said. “Opioids are good for, and are the best for, certain types of pain, so long as they are treated and overseen by a qualified physician who does this stuff, and that’s important. We’ve come in leaps and bounds in a very short period of time, and I think we are beginning to get a handle on it.”
WTOC spoke with some patients who feel they are being forgotten as opioids are being villainized. Kathie Tucker from Pooler says she is prescribed an opioid, but getting access to it is getting harder. Tucker says she has been turned away from pharmacists before, just for being prescribed opioids.
“It’s just the pain...I never knew, could do so much to you,” Tucker said.
Tucker has antiphospholipid syndrome, which is a rare autoimmune disorder that causes recurring blood clots. A wreck she was in two years ago made it worse.
“It’s a dangerous medication, but any medication can be dangerous, and there are those out there who don’t need it, but there are those out there that do," Tucker said.
Rep. Stephens, who is also a licensed pharmacist, says unfortunately, this crisis has turned pharmacists into police.
“Now, when someone comes in, we’ve got to go through the monitoring program and make sure that person is not a drug seeker. Did they go somewhere else to get something filled just a little bit before? It’s an awkward position for us to have to be in to police a situation that’s out of control," Stephens said.
Along with statewide leaders, Congressman Buddy Carter says they are devoted to reaching a solution in this epidemic. In a statement this week, Carter says we must continue working together to end this crisis once and for all. Stephens agrees.
Congressman Carter thanked the administration in a statement, saying the following:
“The opioid crisis continues to plague our nation and it could impact any person or family at any time. We cannot sit idly by as this epidemic takes more parents, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors. I thank the administration for continuing the important work we’ve done in Congress by delivering these grants to local entities today which will continue this fight on the ground. We must continue working together to end this crisis once and for all.”
The following five centers will receive $167,000 grants:
- Coastal Community Health Services in Brunswick
- Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care in Savannah
- Diversity Health Center in Ludowici
- J.C. Lewis Health Center in Savannah
- McKinney Medical Center in Waycross
“So we are moving in the right direction. I think you are going to see after a period of time, some of these folks who have a problem are going to get help. They need to get help, and that’s what we want them to do," Stephens said.
The nation has been struggling with the epidemic for years. During the darkest days, around 76 billion pills were prescribed from 2006 to 2012. The crisis led to nearly 100,000 deaths during that same time period. Numbers from the CDC released earlier this year show that overdose deaths in the United States are declining for the first time in nearly three decades. Some credit in the decline is due to research and treatment options.