Credit: GPB's Lawmakers

Substance abuse issues and opioid-related deaths have “become a pandemic of its own” in Georgia, according to Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

“In Georgia and across the country, we’re facing a record number of overdose deaths,” Fitzgerald told GPB’s Donna Lowry today in an extended interview for Lawmakers.

Fortunately, Georgia will get help to tackle the issue with the $26 billion opioid settlement money from the multi-state agreement with three major pharmaceutical distributors and opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.

DBHDD has received the first of those payments of about $11 million.

“We’ll be investing more funds in detoxification beds, right when people are at that first moment of crisis, making it easier for people to get help,” Fitzgerald said. 

From 2010 to 2020, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports the number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Georgia skyrocketed by 207%. In 2020 alone, opioids accounted for 67% of drug overdose deaths in Georgia.

“We anticipate with the opioid settlement agreement — and there are millions of more dollars on the way — our job will be to turn that into treatment, access, and awareness,” Fitzgerald said.

Tune in to GPB’s Lawmakers tonight at 7 p.m. to watch the interview.