Fatal drug overdoses in Cobb County dropped year over year according to new data, but officials aren’t comfortable calling the drop a trend.
According to the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s annual report, 2018 drug deaths dropped by nearly a quarter from 2017. Opioid related fatalities dropped by more than half. But overdose deaths were almost twice as common as deaths from car crashes.
Chief Medical Examiner Christopher Gulledge said Cobb County has only been gathering data into annual reports and tracking data since he started in 2015. Before that, it just wasn't a priority, he said.
Local leaders have been fighting the opioid epidemic that has been affecting the nation, and trying to find solutions to both educate people and help people suffering substance use disorder find recovery.
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The numbers of fatal overdoses in 2017 were the highest recorded so far, Gulledge said, so he felt encouraged by seeing that drug deaths were down nearly a quarter in 2018. Opioid-related deaths fell by more than half from 2017 to 2018, according to the annual report.
But overdose deaths fell back to what numbers were in 2016, not back to Gulledge's baseline.
"Our 2016 numbers were the second highest we have ever had," Gulledge said. "So, on one hand, it's good that it went down. On the other hand, it went down to close to what our second highest year was."
Gulledge said he can't be sure whether 2017's high number of fatal overdoses was abnormal. Only time will tell.
Drug related overdoses are the second leading cause of death in Cobb County behind heart disease.
"The second most common cause of death in our county is is drug abuse acute drug toxicity," Gulledge said. "These are people who are what we think of as classic overdose deaths."
Last year, a total of 112 people died by what is considered an accidental overdose, while that number in 2017 was 146. But, another 12 deaths in the county were attributed to suicide by drug and/or alcohol toxicity in 2018.
While the average drug user is not using those drugs for the purpose of causing death, intentional overdose is a fairly common method to commit suicide, Gulledge said.