After years of steadily increasing, overdose deaths have declined in the state, as well as in Newton County. Thus far, the county has seen just one death that has been unequivocally linked the drug abuse, while the state has seen a decrease of 8.6 percent from last year.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation released their annual report on drug overdose deaths Tuesday, based on an analysis of autopsies performed by the Medical Examiners office.
In 2009, the GBI reported that there were 670 drug overdose deaths - 584 of them involving prescription drugs or a combination of prescription and illicit drug use. Of those deaths, 508 were due to overdosing on prescription drugs with the most common drug found being Xanax. Deaths were most prevalent in black males between the ages of 45-54, and 595 of them were ruled accidental.
The next year saw an increase from 670 deaths caused by overdose to 729. Again, the largest numbers were for prescription drug overdoses (560), the most common being Xanax. While the age and gender of those overdosing the most stayed the same, the ethnicity changed, with more than 90 percent of overdose deaths being white males between the ages of 45-54.
However, in 2011, the GBI reported that these deaths have gone down, after analyzing autopsies performed in 152 Georgia counties, including Newton. Compared to 2010 numbers, there was an 8.6 percent decrease in overdose deaths.
In 2011, there were 664 drug overdoses, 512 which involved prescription drugs, 82 involving illicit drugs and 70 that were a combination of both prescription and illicit drugs.
Once again, the overdose deaths are most common in white males between the ages of 45-54, and of the 664 total deaths, 91 percent (603) were ruled accidental.
"We really don't know for sure why there's a decrease," said GBI spokesman John Bankhead. "There have been efforts over the past couple of years by physicians, pharmacists, the state legislature and law enforcement to address the prescription drug problem, and we are hoping these efforts will result in a continuing decline in overdose deaths. But these efforts can only go so far in addressing the problem since the ultimate responsibility lies with the individual patient."
According to Newton County Coroner Tommy Davis, most of the county's overdose deaths are related to the abuse of prescription drugs. And although there are still several cases that are pending autopsy reports from the GBI, Davis said there does appear to be a marked decrease in overdose-related deaths from 2011 to date, with Newton County logging in just one this year thus far. Last year, roughly 10 percent of all deaths in the county that were logged by the coroner's office (about 200 deaths), were due to overdose.
"We do work multiple deaths every year that are related to prescription drugs," said Davis. "A lot of times people think that if one is good, two are better and that's not the case. Illicit drug users are using the drugs to get high. They think it's a safer alternative to illicit drugs because it is prescribed, not knowing the toxic affects they will have on them if abused."