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Addressing the Georgia opioid epidemic

Prescription narcotics are one of those medicines that represent a double-edged sword. Doctors who specialize in pain management know these drugs, also called opioids, are effective tools for treating pain. What's equally clear from data over the past decade is that opioids can be very addictive - to a point where they become deadly.

The issue is so bad here in Georgia that the state's Department of Public Health says we are in the midst of an opioid abuse epidemic. Late last month, doctors gathered in Atlanta to lay out some plans for how to address the crisis.

The issue is reportedly particularly bad within the context of workers' compensation. Officials managing the workers' comp insurance system in the state say doctors wrote nearly 8 million prescriptions for opioids in 2016. Three out of four injured Georgia workers receive opioids for their pain. Annual deaths in Georgia from opioids rose more than 60 percent from 2010 to 2016.

Medical professionals say that's a sign that doctors need better education to find alternative treatments that can reduce the risk of addiction. To that end, the Georgia Composite Medical Board recently voted to require that every doctor in the state be trained on proper opioid prescribing practices.

Opioids can be an essential part of treatment after a work injury and no worker should be denied the benefits if evidence clearly shows that such drugs are called for. Still, there is an obligation on everyone's part to minimize the risk of dangers associated with accidental overdose or addiction.

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