MILTON, Ga. — With mounting concerns over the opioid crisis and overdose deaths occurring by the thousands nationwide each year, Milton Police hosted an opioid seminar May 13 at Stonecreek Church to discuss how addiction is being addressed.
The keynote speaker at the event was Tanya Smith who serves as the director of Victim Services at Kennesaw State University and has two decades of experience in law enforcement.
Smith also championed the 911 medical amnesty law that allows for limited immunity from prosecution for those who call 911 when a person is experiencing an overdose. Smith was also a leading voice for police officers and others to carry naloxone, a drug which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Smith began by addressing the myth than drug addicts are lower class, uneducated people in a lifestyle they chose for themselves. She illustrated by showing a photo of her daughter, Taylor, who died from a drug-related overdose in 2014 after a two-year struggle with heroin.
Taylor’s addiction began with prescription opioids given to her after cheerleading injuries. Smith also shared the story of a young man named Davis who did not fit the stereotypical image of a drug addict. Davis began taking his mother’s prescription opioids, drugs she had received from a dentist and forgotten about, which led to an addiction and eventual overdose.
With her first-hand knowledge, her experience in law enforcement and through her studies of opioid laws and treatment, Smith said recovery should go beyond 28-day cycles at treatment centers.
More effective, Smith said, is a physician health program which has an 80-90 percent success rate of recovery.
Smith also emphasized that recovery from addiction is not a short-term process. Treatment, counseling, and the proper social environment are all crucial to success.
“Not one element is more important than the other, all have to work together for recovery,” she said.
From a law enforcement perspective, the so-called “war on drugs” approach should be discarded in favor of a more harm reduction-approach and working with the community, she said. While she called Georgia one of the more progressive states in battling the opioid crisis, Smith said there is still “a long way to go.”
Meanwhile, the 911 amnesty law and availability of naloxone is crucial to saving lives, she said.
“Young people are scared to call 911, they have the fear because their families are affluent, their dad is a lawyer or they want to keep their heroin use a secret,” Smith said. “We want to take away that fear and have people call 911 when someone is overdosing.”
Smith said when people do report an overdose, police often arrive before medical first responders. Before naloxone became available to officers, they typically could only perform CPR on an unresponsive person until medical personnel arrived.
“You don’t have time to wait,” she said. “When someone is unresponsive, they only have about four to six minutes left of life.”
Smith warned naloxone can be ineffective for people overdosing on heroin laced with fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times stronger than typical heroin.
Smith laid out what parents can do if they suspect their son or daughter is struggling with opioid addiction.
Parents must first expect to have tough conversations and to be honest, Smith said. She also added it’s important to gather evidence before confronting your child, and that parents should expect to be met with anger.
“There isn’t anyone who wakes up and wanted to be a heroin addict,” she said.
Parents should also set realistic goals, including clearly defining rules and consequences, keep their children in a safe environment and know addiction resources. Naloxone should always be available in households where someone is struggling with addiction, she said.