News & Press
Athens 'At the Beginning of this Fight' Against Opioids
LEGISLATORS, medical professionals, academics and survivors of substance abuse recently gathered at The Classic Center for the 2018 Athens Opioid Summit.
The event allowed individuals from all sides of the fight against the opioid epidemic to gather and discuss what is working, what their barriers are and how they can continue moving forward to beat addiction.
“We brought this event to Athens because, even though the opioid epidemic isn’t here yet, there is evidence that it’s coming,” said Catherine Clayton Mills, program manager at Advantage Behavioral Health’s PROUD peer mentoring program. “If we can figure out how to work as a community, if we can figure out how to collaborate, it doesn’t matter what drug it is, we can beat it.”
One of the collaborators at the Athens summit was Georgia state Sen. Renee Unterman (R – Buford). As Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Unterman provided the summit with a roundup of state legislation related to the fight against opioid abuse.
One of the successes she highlighted was the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Act, a bill that removed Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, from the state’s dangerous drugs list.
Unterman also touted the strengthening of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and of regulations around drug abuse treatment as steps forward in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
However, there were some opioid related bills in Georgia that failed to become law, and that’s why Unterman says that events like the Athens Opioid Summit are more important than ever.
“This is where we have to build our grassroots support,” she said. “The people who take care of those with substance addictions see the problem, but they work on individuals. What we need is societal change.”
Unterman added that partnerships between the treatment community and the state Legislature can lead to that societal change needed to turn around the opioid epidemic.
Cassandra Price, executive director of the Division of Addictive Diseases at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, reiterated the fact that community partnerships are key to beating opioid addiction.
“These partnerships in our community are what make it happen,” she said. “We wouldn’t have a chance without these people working tirelessly to help people get better and find that path to recovery.”
Price educated attendees about another key component in the fight against opioid addiction in Georgia, a nearly $12 million State Targeted Response Grant.
The grant, Price said, will go in part toward providing medication-assisted addiction treatment for the uninsured, building recovery support systems and running addiction prevention campaigns in the state.
“We’re filling in the gaps in areas we haven’t been able to address,” Price said.
The policies appear to be working, she added.
“The amount of prescription drug abuse is down,” Price said. “When that happens, heroin use normally ticks up, but we are definitely making inroads on the prescription drug side.”
For Unterman, these results are a source of optimism when it comes to the fight against opioid abuse.
“I’m optimistic about our success because of the investment the state has made into the fight against the opioid epidemic,” the senator said. “We’re laying the foundation for the federal money. We know we’re just at the beginning of this fight, but I think we’re ahead of the curve.”