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The Opioid Crisis: Georgia at the Top

This blog is part of a continuing series on the opioid crisis in America. The first blog in the series was posted on January 12, 2018, and was titled: “Opioids: a Medical Malpractice Epidemic?”


When it comes to statistics on the extent of the opioid crisis and what states it is impacting the most, being at the top of a list is not preferred placement. Yet that is exactly where Georgia falls, time and again. Here are a few of the standout statistics:

1. Georgia is among the top 11 states in the country with the most prescription opioid overdose deaths according to the Georgia Department of Public Health;

2. Georgian deaths from overdoses tripled from 1999-2013;

3. From 2009-2014, Georgia’s rate of increase in the number of patient encounters related to opioids led the nation;

4. In 2014, 55 out of 159 Georgia counties had higher drug overdose rates than the U.S. average (in 2003, it was only 26 counties).


The national statistics are staggering. In 2016—one year—nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses; that is approximately as many Americans as were lost in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. That is hard to fathom. More than 122 people die every single day from drug overdoses in this country; that is also hard to fathom. And in the U.S., one of the world’s richest countries, life expectancy has declined in the years 2015 and 2016, fueled by a 21% rise in the death rate from drug overdoses as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


America’s addiction to opioids began very differently than the cocaine epidemic of the 1970s and the crack epidemic of the 1980s. With cocaine and crack, the drugs entered the U.S. market illegally via cartels and dealers. With opioids, the drugs causing the current epidemic entered the market legally via pharmaceutical manufacturers. The drugs were then prescribed by doctors who were falsely told that they were safe, non-addictive and effective for pain management. A combination of careless management of these potent medications, too many prescriptions flooding the market, and abuse of the drugs led to the present opioid epidemic.

Due to stricter laws and better management of prescription opioids, overdose deaths from prescription opioids are decreasing. However, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl have replaced prescription opioids as drugs of choice. The number of people killed by fentanyl has risen from 3,000 to more than 20,000 in just 3 years, a 540% increase.


As mentioned in the previous post in this series, Fulton County filed a lawsuit against more than two dozen drug manufacturers, distributors and doctors in October 2017. The theories of recovery are based on: fraud in the marketing of the opioids as safe, non-addictive, and effective for long-term pain management; negligence in not reporting suspicious orders to certain pharmacies; and public nuisance. The lawsuit asks for reimbursement for the expenses related to the crisis, including costs such as Medicaid costs, law enforcement and first responder costs, judicial costs, foster care, Narcan costs, loss of productivity, and various other costs. Expanded treatment for addicts would also be included in the response to the crisis and the use of any money recouped from the lawsuit.

Although Fulton County is the first county in Georgia to file this type of lawsuit, six states and over a dozen cities and counties nationwide have filed lawsuits against Big Pharma and their distributors. The national economic costs of opioid overdose, abuse and dependence are estimated to be 78.5 billion, and the people affected most by these costs—cities, counties and states—are looking to the entities that benefited the most to pay for these costs: the drug manufacturers. The strategy employed is reminiscent of that used in the litigation against Big Tobacco, and some of the same attorneys are involved. One hopes that the current litigation is as successful as the Big Tobacco litigation was on both fronts: drastically reducing the overdose deaths, and eliciting funds for the rehabilitation of addicts and reimbursement to the communities hardest hit by the epidemic.


If you or someone you know struggles with opioid addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP or

If you or someone you know has been injured, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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