AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Got old opioids lying around? Get rid of them this way

Bottles of half-empty prescription pain killers that are hanging out in your bathroom shelves or sock drawer need to go.

“Unfortunately, our very own medicine cabinets can be a hotbed for the opioid epidemic,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said Monday at an Atlanta Walgreens.

Carr, who launched the Georgia Statewide Opioid Task Force in September, is urging Georgians to safely dispose of their leftover medications before a drug-seeking family member or visitor snatches an old prescription while taking a bathroom break.

National Drug Take Back Day is Saturday and Carr is making stops around the state this week to try to get Georgians to take part in the program. Consumers can find a "Drug Take Back Box" at pharmacies and public facilities across Georgia. Here is a link to safe disposal locations at public facilities. The Drug Enforcement Administration also offers a search tool to find a safe disposal location near you here.

When Carr kicked off the statewide task force, he said that during the 12-month period that ended in May, the total number of opioid doses legally prescribed to Georgians was more than 541 million. That equates to about 54 legal doses for every adult and child in the state.

Experts say because many of those doses aren't used by the patient, they end up being snatched or sold to addicts. Some patients get a doctor to write them a prescription, and then sell the drugs instead of using them.

Last year, 982 people in Georgia died from an opioid-related drug overdose.

"Let’s join together and empty our medicine cabinets, so that together, we can ensure there are no more tears, no more deaths and no more heartache as a result of the opioid epidemic,” Carr said Monday, while standing in front of a disposal box in southwest Atlanta.

Opioids continue to pose a gigantic public health threat across the nation. A report released Monday by the Drug Enforcement Administration said that controlled prescription drugs have been linked to the largest number of overdose deaths of any illicit drug class since 2001.

The 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment report, which outlines the nation's top drug problems, found that while abuse of prescription drugs has declined in some areas, they are still used by more people than cocaine, heroin, MDMA, methamphetamine, and PCP combined.

The DEA said drug poisoning deaths are the nation's leading cause of injury deaths and are at their highest level ever recorded.

Since 2011, deaths from drug overdoses have outnumbered deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide, according to the report.

The statistics demonstrate how much these injury deaths have shifted. In 1999 for example, motor vehicle crashes account for 42,401 deaths across the nation, compared with 16,849 deaths from drug overdoses. By 2015, the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes had declined to 37,757. But the drug deaths more than triple to 52,404.

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About the Author

Carrie Teegardin is on the investigative team. She is a graduate of Duke University and has won numerous national journalism awards.