Opinion: Some next steps toward fighting opioid abuse in Ga.

A new season of A&E Network’s Emmy Award-Winning docu-series aired earlier this month. For many Georgians, the opening scenes – which include shots of Newtown Dream Dog Park, Marietta Square, and North Springs MARTA station - are familiar. Unfortunately, this is not a television production lured to Georgia by our competitive film tax credit. A&E picked the North Atlanta suburbs for its 18th Season of “Intervention” to showcase the opioid epidemic in a region of our state branded “The Heroin Triangle.”

With Gov. Nathan Deal and our world-class economic development team working around the clock to court companies like Amazon, we do not want our state to become synonymous with rampant drug abuse. While we can’t stop A&E from airing the reality that exists, we can combat Georgia’s opioid problem with unbridled resolve.

Under the leadership of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the Georgia General Assembly has worked diligently to address opioid abuse in the Peach State. In 2014, lawmakers passed legislation that offered immunity to anyone who reported an opioid overdose and to medical professionals who prescribe or dispense the “opioid overdose antidote.”

Two years later, Gov. Deal issued a standing order to allow naloxone to be dispensed over-the-counter by pharmacists. Recently, the Georgia General Assembly codified Gov. Deal’s order into law — making it permanent.

These legislative remedies have undoubtedly saved the lives of many Georgians. However, it’s time to take the next step and help break the cycle of addiction. To end the opioid epidemic, we must focus on the underlying ailment and not just the symptoms of the disease. One of the tools available is medication-assisted treatment – better known as MAT.

In December of last year, Georgia State Auditor Greg Griffin published a report, which found that “the state’s efforts to expand the availability of medication-assisted treatment for those with opioid use disorder have been limited.” Griffin recommended a comprehensive opioid strategy that “increase[s] access to MAT — including increasing the number of MAT providers; providing resources and training to practitioners, state supervising officials, and the public; and mitigating barriers to public insurance coverage.”

Tackling the opioid epidemic should be a priority during the 2018 legislative session and the recommendations made in the State Auditor’s report can guide Georgia lawmakers forward. Scientific research shows that patients receiving MAT are more likely to remain in treatment, end illegal drug usage, and avoid the cycle of drug abuse. These patients are also less likely to contract infectious diseases related to IV drug use and less likely to engage in criminal behaviors often associated with substance abuse.

By expanding the availability of medication-assisted treatment, we can save lives, enhance public safety, and ensure a bright and promising future for Georgia families. Again, these outcomes are only possible when you treat the underlying disease — not just the symptoms.

While I no longer have a vote under the Gold Dome, I do urge representatives and senators from all four corners of our state to join the fight and advance legislation that tackles opioid abuse through the expansion of MAT.

Together, we can stop the opioid epidemic from destroying lives, ruining communities, and tarnishing the sterling reputation of our great state. With a comprehensive, common-sense approach, we can remain a state of success – not one in need of on-camera intervention.

Brian Kemp is Georgia’s Secretary of State, and is a Republican candidate for governor.

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