Last updated: August 8, 2022
Prescription drug abuse is rampant across many American cities. Every day, 44 people die from prescription opioid overdose. According to the Prescription Drug Abuse Subcommittee from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prescription drugs, which are typically opioid analgesics, like Vicodin® and Oxycontin®, are increasingly responsible for overdose deaths. Opioids were responsible for 30 percent of overdoses in 1999. By 2010, that number was nearly 60 percent.
Overdoses from prescription opioids now outnumber the combined deaths from all illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has estimated a four-fold increase in prescription pain pills since 1999. Sadly, the annual death toll has also quadrupled, with more than 16,000 in 2013.
Interestingly enough, in 2013, Georgia’s Department of Public Health released information that indicated in Atlanta, opioid abuse was lower than the national average. With nearly 5.5 million people in the Atlanta metropolitan area alone, and another 4.5 million throughout Georgia, it’s important to examine what the differences might be and determine a new working model for other cities to emulate. After all, Atlanta is strategically located on I-95 between Miami and New York City, so it’s not as though there aren’t an abundance of drugs passing through.
Atlanta drug indicators suggested that opioid use remained low. There was a nominal change in oxycodone treatment admissions, from 2.8 percent in 2011 to 3.1 percent in the summer of 2013. Heroin use remained low as well. In a 2007 CDC study, Georgia had one of the lower opioid death rates, 10.2 per 100,000 population compared to the national rate, 12.7 per 100,000.
The Greater Boston metropolitan area has a population of approximately 5 million people. Heroin continued to have high levels of abuse, but 8 percent of all admissions to treatment facilities in 2013 reported prescriptions opioids as the primary, secondary, or tertiary addiction. In 2014, deaths from accidental opioid overdoses were almost 60 percent higher than in 2012.
The Miami-Ft. Lauderdale statistical area is nearing an estimated 5 million people. Prescription opioid abuse continued in 2013 as Florida’s most deadly drug problem. Between Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, which comprise the statistical area, 34.5 percent of publicly funded treatment admissions were due to opioid addiction. In the first half of 2013, 47.5 percent of drug overdoses were from opioids.
On the west coast, the San Francisco Bay Area, 4.5 million, showed 9.1 percent of treatment admissions for opioids while the Phoenix/Maricopa County, Arizona, with a population at just over 4 million people, continued to show a steady increase, from 3 percent in 2008 to 8 percent in 2013.
When contrasting other cities of similar size, it is clear Atlanta has one of the lower rates of opioid abuse in the country, ranking in the lowest quintile across all age groups. Until further statistics come out, however, it is important to not be overly optimistic; it can be difficult to predict trends. It may be that cities with higher rates are taking steps to reduce usage and vice-versa.
Having a lower usage rate does not mean that Atlanta and Georgia as a whole are safe from this epidemic, however. But Georgia has taken proactive steps to help combat the problem. They have implemented state pain clinic laws that require the facility to meet stringent operational and reporting guidelines. Additionally, they are working on improving prescription drug monitoring programs. This will help regulate the prescribing practices of physicians and determine where changes need to be made. Other states can continue to look to Atlanta and what other factors may be at play and then begin assessing if what is working for Atlanta might work for them.