Coroner says drug overdoses on the rise in Augusta

AUGUSTA (WJBF) — A national epidemic is hitting the CSRA. Heroin and opioid overdoses.

The last ten years, drug overdoses have been on a significant rise across the country.

Many health officials are calling the increase in overdoses a “crisis.”

The Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen agrees adding it’s one of the biggest problems his office has to deal with.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overdoses have increased by about 250% since 2002.

Even worse, heroin overdoses, have a sharp incline starting in 2010.

“It originally started out as a pain pill issue where they were prescribed the medication because of an injury and then their addiction to opiates became worse and when they couldn’t get the pills anymore they sometimes have turned to the alternative of heroin,” Sgt. Joel Danko said.

In Augusta, the increase is here, as Bowen says his office responds to about 10 overdoses a month, sometimes even more.

“Most of them are pain-related. Pain killers. They’re easy to get. It just seems like here lately, they’re moving pretty fast,” Bowen said.

Bowen has been serving the public for 30 years and during that time, he’s seen different trends.

The heroin and pain pill trend though… is by far the worst.

“I think it’s growing. I really do. I think it’s a growing epidemic if you will,” he said.

And because the coroner’s office has to handle all deaths outside of hospice care, the increase in drug overdoses can create more workload for his 8 employees.

“The GBI is going to be backlogged. There’s no way to really get around that unless they hire more scientists and toxicologists to help us up front. With that being said, you can at least 6 to 8 weeks on a toxicology report,” Bowen said.

Even though an overdose my be obvious, the coroner’s office still has to investigate deaths thoroughly.

“We’re going to make sure we get the correct answer for the family to have closure down the road,” he added.

In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that allows people to buy the life-saving drug, Naloxone, over-the-counter.

In South Carolina, the overdose-prevention drug can only be used by medical professionals.

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