Alarmed by the opioid drug crisis in Georgia and the Augusta area, the Richmond County Medical Society decided to do something about it by establishing a secure way to dispose of old and unused prescription drugs.
The medical society unveiled its new prescription drug drop box Tuesday afternoon at the Richmond County Health Department, 950 Laney-Walker Blvd. Even before it was unveiled, it had already received a donation, said East Central Health District Director Stephen Goggans. The drugs will be picked up and incinerated by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, which has a drug drop box in its lobby at 400 Walton Way. The medical society is also focusing on physician education and helping doctors spot addiction in patients.
There is good evidence for the society’s concern. In Richmond County, the number of overdose deaths ranged from 19 to 34 per year from 2006 to 2014 before jumping in 2015 to 46, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. In Georgia, the number of overdose deaths nearly doubled from 2006 to 2015, from 767 to 1,307.
The initiative in Augusta began about a year and a half ago when a board member who had a close family member struggling with addiction brought it up, said Dr. Craig Kerins, a past president of the medical society. That led to a meeting with leadership from the sheriff’s office, who described not only the magnitude of the problem but the impact on area school systems, he said.
“It was kind of a ‘wow’ moment for us,” Kerins said. “We came out of that meeting pretty motivated to do something.”
A key aspect of the dropbox is to prevent children from getting their hands on these medications because a key risk factor for addiction is the age at first exposure, said Dr. Adair Blackwood, a member of the Richmond County Board of Health and an expert at treating addiction in children.
“These kids getting these medicines out of the medicine cabinet and trying them for the first time or wherever they get exposed to these medicines for the first time at a young age is a big concern,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to target is the prevention piece.”
Another part of the initiative is educating physicians. The medical society is working with Medical Association of Georgia to offer a free library of lectures physicians can use to educate themselves on drug abuse and treatment and is also working with Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University to make some of its lectures available. The U.S. has seen a hefty increase in the prescribing of opiates, which has tripled since 1999, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s very much a concern of ours,” Blackwood said. “We feel that physician education is at the top of our list with the task force.”
Even at a cost of about $1,000 per box, the medical society would like to have a total of eight in place for people to drop off the unwanted prescriptions and is working with the sheriff’s office and public health on other projects, officials said.
“It’s a complicated issue and there are a lot of ways to attack it,” Kerins said. “We’re going to try to attack it every way we can.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.