Statistics show the devastating results of this country’s opioid epidemic. There were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017, the latest figures available, with about 60%, or nearly two-thirds, related to opioids. Closer home, the picture is unfortunately very similar.
“Cobb County has dramatically and negatively been affected by the opioid crisis,” Cobb acting District Attorney John Melvin said at a news conference last week. “In 2017, we led the state and other larger counties in the reported number of overdose deaths. And in the two years previous to that, we saw a 49% increase in deaths associated with opioid use over those years.”
How disturbing is that picture of opioid abuse in Cobb County?
Melvin cited those grim statistics in announcing a federal grant of nearly $900,000 to pay for a new program in the county’s fight against opioids. The program is the Cobb Opioid Fatality Review Project and will provide an investigator and case worker. All information relating to fatal or near-fatal opioid overdoses will be directed to this new project, which will include a team to review all opioid deaths or near-deaths and make recommendations to law enforcement and other agencies to improve response to the crisis in Cobb.
Three goals listed by the district attorney relate to life-or-death issues. First, improve response to drug abuse offenders; second, improve efforts by law enforcement to investigate dealers and distributors; and third, collect data on Cobb’s opioid epidemic and report it accurately.
The goals essentially sum up the fight against opioid abuse and each goal involves huge challenges. For example, how tragically often do family and friends miss the warning signs until an overdose has taken another life? How often do investigators miss nabbing a dealer because people in the neighborhood failed to give a tip out of fear or plain indifference? And accurate reporting of the facts is essential not only for law enforcement but for the public to be informed and, let’s hope, alerted to being part of the solution.
The district attorney said the new project’s investigator, Matthew Mize, will be dedicated to reviewing all opioid-related cases to dig up leads for law enforcement to identify and target distributors and deal with the supplies of drugs. That’s half of the challenge -- to cut off the supplies -- while the other half is working to cut demand, essentially the assignment of case worker Latoya Inzar, who will provide direct support for addicts and refer them and their families to programs for help. These include the county’s accountability courts that offer alternatives to jail through treatment programs and other avenues. For offenders with felony convictions, there will be other help programs available. Clearly, the overriding objective is to get help for those who need it through whatever means possible. This speaks of the determination by the DA and his office to beat back the scourge of opioid abuse.
The federal grant comes from the $1.5 billion appropriated by Congress for grants to state programs under President Donald Trump’s Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse. It was launched last year with the objectives of cutting demand and -- very importantly -- the over-prescribing of the highly addictive pain-killer opioids; educating the public about the dangers of drug abuse; reducing supplies by going after the international and domestic chains of illicit drug trafficking; and providing help to addicts via treatment and recovery services. These objectives are mirrored by Cobb’s new program.
Here’s hoping that Melvin and his new staffers will turn this new program into the resource that tilts the scales heavily in favor of winning the fight against opioid abuse. It’s up to the people of Cobb County to make themselves part of the solution whenever possible, for this is a matter of life or death.