ALBANY, GA (WALB) - State leaders are trying to get ahead of the opioid and heroin epidemics.
On Thursday they met with dozens of representatives from healthcare agencies, local leaders and emergency officials to discuss the issue at hand, and how South Georgians can stop the crisis before it gets too big to handle.
"We've got to work harder, faster," said Executive Director of the Georgia Prevention Project Jim Langford as he addressed a crowd of nearly 100 people on Thursday morning. They ranged from law enforcement officials in Leary to healthcare leaders in Thomasville.
"Some of you may already know in terms of how serious this opioid and heroin problem is in Georgia," said Langford.
For those who didn't, Langford gave them statistics to show the severity of the crisis.
The Center for Disease Control said nearly 50,000 Americans died in 2016 from an opioid or heroin overdose. Langford said the CDC thinks that might be 40 percent underreported.
Langford compared the preparation needed for the growing opioid problem to preparations for natural disasters, something familiar to South Georgians.
"This is one of those strategic plans again like a hurricane plan, where you've got to get it out, you've got to make it work, you've got to make it comprehensive," explained Langford.
Langford said when the weather conditions are looking bad for South Georgia, officials spend weeks preparing. So when it hits, the impact is smaller. He said officials must prepare the same for the opioid and heroin crisis.
Langford's group is a non-profit organization, with only so much pull, but he said powerful people at the state level recognize the urgency. He said Attorney General Chris Car and Senate Health and Human Services Chairperson Renee Unterman are among them. Unterman spoke with Langford on Thursday.
While Langford gave statistics, Unterman told the audience stories of people who she has met who have felt loss due to an overdose. She also spoke about the attention that must be given to newborns who are born addicted.
"When the mother comes to give birth, she's addicted. Then that baby's born and it's addicted," explained Unterman.
Unterman said those children then go to foster care.
Thursday was Unterman's fourth visit to Albany to speak about the epidemic.
Often times Unterman uses emotional stories to capture listeners. It's the people in the stories who have opened her eyes to problems as well.
"He said all my friends are dead, and you need to do something about it," said Unterman as she spoke about the young man who came to her office to talk about the need for legislation.
It was that young man's story, that helped push her to help pass legislation to allow Narcan to be sold over the counter.
The South Georgia leaders spent time well beyond Unterman and Langford's presentations speaking about the crisis on Thursday.
Kentucky, Ohio, and several other states are experiencing the opioid and heroin epidemic the worst.
There are some pieces of legislation that state officials are working to pass to help with the crisis.
Some of those include increasing oversight for pain clinics, creating standards for prescriber education and increasing funding for prevention.
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