U.S. Congressman Earl "Buddy" Carter represents a large part of Georgia's coast. Some of the counties in his district are among the hardest hit in the state by the opioid crisis. Carter is also the only pharmacist currently serving in Congress.
A member of the House Subcommittee on Health, Carter was part of the group that passed 57 bills last year crafted to create a comprehensive government approach aimed at lowering the number of overdose-related deaths and preventing new patients from becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
Following his delivered remarks at the 2019 National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Carter talked Tuesday about the improvements he's seen since the bills were passed.
REP. CARTER: Well, first of all we need to understand that there is no silver bullet. This is going to be a comprehensive program that we're going to have to hit from different angles and we understand that. But at the same time, I think we've made some significant progress. For instance, as we all know in the state of Georgia, there are two Georgias. There's Atlanta and there's everywhere else, and in rural Georgia telemedicine is important. One of the bills that was included in the support act that I sponsored had to do with telehealth and with the ability of physicians to write prescriptions for medication-assisted treatment without having to see the patient physically for the first time. And this helps; it helps in the rural areas and we'll see the impact of that as time goes on, and it will it will make a difference. But it's things like that that we can address that I think overall are going to help and have a cumulative effect.
ROBERT: You called for a closer look at the relationship between something really interesting and important here to Georgia specifically, the relationship between maternal mortality and opioid addiction. We know that Georgia has the second-highest rate for maternal mortality in the country. And we also are one of the states with the highest rate of opioid and drug related overdoses and deaths. What do you think needs to be done to address this specific issue that does hit close to home?
REP. CARTER: Well, one of the things that we've done in the 1st District is, I've had three roundtable discussions throughout the district and have one in Savannah and Brunswick, one just last week in Jessup in Wayne County and meeting with the doctors to ask them what was a problem here, and why. Why has Georgia got such a high rate and can we identify the problem there? And one of the things they always point to is the opioid epidemic; it is part of the problem and it's bad in Georgia. Therefore it carries over to the maternal mortality and we see that and have a big impact on it as well. So, this is something we've got to address now. There are other factors as well and we're still trying to research and identify those factors. But at the same time we know that the opioid problem in opioid addiction is right right there how on the list.
ROBERT: So when you talk about solutions for the maternal mortality or just the opioid epidemic in general, what's the best approach that you see? You know you sit in a federal seat, but you serve a very local group of people. How is that relationship between Washington D.C. and the small counties in Georgia going to be strengthened and best utilized so that we can see better solutions for people on the ground here in the state?
REP. CARTER: Well, one of the things that's going to help is going to be input and feedback from the rural areas and letting us know in Congress. I know it's hard to believe, but we don't always get it right the first time and we need to tweak it. We need to massage it just like any piece of legislation and that's why this conference is so important and why we've got such a diverse crowd over 3,000 people here participating in this. But we need their feedback. We need to know what programs are working. What programs are not working what should we be emphasizing more and what should we be emphasizing less.