Georgia Senate approves bills on opioid epidemic, health council

A key state senator said Wednesday that she expects Georgia’s fight against the opioid epidemic to draw funding from the Legislature through the budget process.

Sen. Renee Unterman, a Buford Republican, made the remarks after the Senate unanimously approved a bill that would establish a Georgia director of substance abuse, addiction and related disorders and create a commission to address the crisis of addiction and substance abuse. The bill, though, did not have funding attached to it.


The legislation, sponsored by Unterman, also has language about a possible Medicaid waiver related to opioid abuse cases.

It’s difficult to determine how many opioid overdose deaths occur in the state.

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, citing CDC statistics, recently reported that Georgia had 918 overdose deaths from opioids in 2016, and 1,394 drug overdose deaths overall. But some experts say the overdose death numbers are underreported.

“Our numbers are going up,’’ Unterman told reporters. She added that she would like to see real-time mapping of suspected overdoses, so law enforcement can react quickly and possibly prevent deaths.

“I personally don’t think we’re any different from any other state,’’ said Unterman, calling the bill another step in the process of combating the opioid problem.

“I don’t think you can sit back and do nothing,’’ she said. “People are losing loved ones.”

On the Senate floor, Unterman, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, cited a Lawrenceville subdivision that lost two boys to overdose deaths in separate events on the same day.

Senate Bill 352 also aims to crack down on unscrupulous patient ”brokers,” enhance education and prevention efforts for students, and increase access to treatment and recovery programs.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle called the opioid bill ‘’a great step for us.’’

Cagle also praised the Senate’s passage Wednesday of legislation that would create a Health Coordination and Innovation Council and a position of director of health care policy and strategic planning. This new official would report directly to the governor.

The council would bring together experts from academia and business, as well as elected and appointed leaders to provide a forum to share information. And a Health System Innovation Center would be established as a research organization to develop new approaches for financing and delivering health care.

Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), who sponsored Senate Bill 357 and is a physician, said this effort to improve the workings of the health care system “is absolutely vital to our rural communities.”


The Senate also approved a bill by 50-3 vote that would require a segment of private employers to offer coverage for autism for children up to 12 years old. The current minimum age requirement for coverage is 6.

All three health care bills now move to the Georgia House for consideration.