‘Good Samaritan’ helps cut opioid overdose deaths in Georgia

Every day, 91 Americans die from opioid overdoses.

That adds up to more than 33,000 people in 2015, or four times as many such overdose deaths as in 1999.

When federal officials finish counting the deaths for more recent years, the number will be even higher.

No wonder there’s widespread concern about how to prevent use of opioids such as prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl – and how to blunt their lethality. State Legislatures, in particular, feel pressed to do something about these deaths. The Georgia General Assembly this year passed bills related to the opioid epidemic in the state.

Three years ago, the state passed a law that encourages people to summon help when they are in danger or see someone else in trouble. Police and emergency workers say this “Good Samaritan’’ law is saving lives.
When a medical crisis appears related to drug abuse, many people hesitate to call emergency services for fear they’ll get into trouble. The “Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law” is meant to put those fears to rest.

“Under the amnesty law, if you call 911 to get medical treatment for yourself or for somebody who currently needs medical attention, you can’t be held criminally liable for anything on the property, anything on the premises,” said Officer David Ian, an Athens-Clarke County police officer.

The amnesty law also makes it easier for first responders to carry naloxone – a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose – and to administer it to a person who has overdosed. Under its provisions, emergency personnel won’t be liable if the person doesn’t respond or has an adverse reaction.

In Athens-Clarke County, nearly all patrol officers have been trained to use Narcan nasal spray, a branded form of naloxone. They carry it at all times. The county is in the process of training every officer to use this life-saving intervention

What happens when overdose is reported

Responding to such emergencies is a team effort, with police, EMTs and ER doctors all playing a role.

“Opioid-related overdoses are one of the few overdoses where we have a medicine we can give to try to reverse the effects of the drugs,” said emergency medicine specialist Dr. Kurt Horst, a physician at Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital. “If either the police or EMTs think that a person is showing signs of an overdose they can go ahead and administer that drug on site.”
Once the drug is given, emergency responders watch closely to see if the person’s breathing becomes more normal, and they ask the person to respond to simple questions. EMTs rush people who remain unresponsive to a hospital, where an emergency team will do everything possible to revive them. If that works, the ER team will urge them to seek help to deal with substance abuse.

“If someone’s had an opioid-related overdose and Narcan revives them, we can’t make them go receive medical treatment,” said Ian, “though usually we can convince someone who has overdosed to seek medical treatment.”

A person who regains consciousness after a dose of nasal spray may resist transport to the hospital.

“The reason everybody needs to come to the hospital after overdosing, even if they wake up after passing out, is because every medication has a half-life,” said Horst. “Naloxone will last about 30 to 60 minutes. So even if they wake up and seem alert and fine, it’s possible if they’re not watched or monitored they could go back into the state they initially had and require a repeat dosing of the naloxone.”

Police officers and other emergency medical workers say they want to save people in this life-threatening situation, not put them in jail.

“If you think you’ve overdosed on something or a loved one has overdosed on something and they’re having problems, then they should call an ambulance,” said Horst, the ER doctor. “The longer you wait, the more detriment or harm is going to be caused to the patient.”

Officer Ian agreed. “From a law enforcement perspective, our main priority is the value of life,’’ he said. “Our ultimate priority is making sure people are taken care of, people are safe.”

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UGA students, alumni offered record number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Athens, Ga. – A record number of University of Georgia students and alumni have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships this year.

Twenty UGA students and alumni were among the 2,000 fellows selected from over 13,000 applicants nationwide for the 2017 competition. NSF Graduate Research Fellowships recognize and support outstanding graduate students in STEM-science, technology, engineering and mathematics-disciplines. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

“The University of Georgia continues to raise the bar for excellence in the STEM disciplines,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I am proud of these 20 outstanding students and alumni whose research will help to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our world.”

UGA’s 2017 NSF Fellows and their fields of study are:

• Henry Adams, disease ecology.
• Sara Thomas Black, geography.
• William Wesley Booker, evolutionary biology.
• Caitlin Conn, ecology.
• Abigail Judith Courtney, microbial biology.
• Michael Ryan Clifford Dibble, chemistry of life processes.
• Austin Guy Garner, evolutionary biology.
• Eilidh Geddes, economics.
• Alexandra Michelle Harris, industrial/organizational psychology.
• Robert Zachary Crump Holmes, ecology.
• Kathryn M. Moore, biomedical engineering.
• Mariel Pfeifer, STEM education and learning research.
• Sydney Elizabeth Bishop Plummer, chemical oceanography.
• Matthew Joseph Powers, microbial biology.
• Robert Lundell Richards, ecology.
• Claire Stewart Teitelbaum, ecology.
• David Vasquez, ecology.
• Sheena Vasquez, biochemistry.
• Elizabeth Ann Watts, biochemistry.
• Avery Elizabeth Wiens, chemical theory, models and computational methods.

“NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are a mark of excellence for graduate students in STEM,” said UGA Graduate School Dean Suzanne Barbour. “That so many of our students have been so honored is a testament to the strength of graduate education and research in STEM disciplines at the University of Georgia.”

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Amid opioid epidemic, Georgia makes overdose antidote more available

People who have lost a friend or loved one to opioid addiction know about naloxone.

In December, Georgia became the 36th state to legalize over-the-counter sale of naloxone, which can save the life of someone who has overdosed on painkillers, heroin, or other opioid drugs. In the past, only someone with a doctor’s prescription could buy this medication at a pharmacy.

Now anyone can buy it, with no prescription needed.

Naloxone is sold as Narcan Injection or Narcan Nasal Spray. Either can rescue a person with opioid overdose signs such as slowed breathing or unresponsiveness. A typical retail price is $45 for the injectable and $110 for the spray.

Many people would never think of looking for naloxone when they shop at the drugstore. But in states where over-the-counter sales have been legalized, some people have gone out to buy the medication as soon as it was available.

“These are usually the people who have lost someone to overdose or have been personally affected by it in some way,” says Jeff Bratberg, a clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island whose research focuses on changing patterns of naloxone use.

“They’re also the people that don’t care about the stigma of addiction or carrying it,” Bratberg says. “They are helping normalize naloxone as the standard for opioid safety.”

Police and sheriff’s departments across Georgia are carrying naloxone in case of overdose emergencies.

Gov. Nathan Deal effectively legalized over-the-counter naloxone sales in Georgia when he signed an executive order in December allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription. Executive orders are basically provisional measures, and a state Senate bill is now being considered to make the authorization a part of Georgia law.

How it works

In an overdose situation, naloxone kick-starts breathing.

“The most dangerous effect of opioids is respiratory depression. That’s what most people die of if they overdose,” says brain researcher Phillip Holmes, chair of the neuroscience program at the University of Georgia.

“Naloxone reverses this toxic effect by acting as a neurotransmitter receptor blocker. The drug targets the same receptors as opioids and binds to these,” says Holmes.

When Narcan is injected or sprayed into the nostrils of people who have stopped breathing, that may be enough to resuscitate them. But it may not. CPR should be started if the overdosed person doesn’t start breathing immediately; then a second dose can be given after a few minutes

The drug is no harder to use than any other pre-loaded syringe or nasal spray, and instructions are included with every box.

“It’s important to reassure people that administration of the drug is not going to result in a violent reaction,” says Bratberg.

“An overdose is an emergency. If you don’t remember any of the steps for administering naloxone, you can call 911 and most dispatchers in the country can walk you through the process of naloxone administration,” he says.

The overdose problem is huge

Even today, it’s easy to underestimate how prevalent opioid use really is. According to the CDC, the number of opioid-induced drug overdoses has quadrupled since 1999.

CDC’s most recent count shows that 1,302 Georgia residents died due to overdose in 2015. Nationwide, opioid overdose killed 33,091 people that year.

These numbers indicate how dire the opioid crisis has become: Drug overdoses kill more people than car crashes or gun violence.

“You may think that you don’t know somebody at risk, but if you go out in public, you’re going to encounter somebody [with an addiction to opioids],” says Karen Skinner, clinical director at the Athens Addiction Recovery Center.

“This crisis is not going away, it’s not abating. Much like knowing CPR, carrying naloxone is a preventative step we can all take,” adds Bratberg, the Rhode Island researcher.

While experts agree that naloxone is a lifesaver, some see possible adverse consequences of selling it in drugstores.

“Having naloxone on hand is great for the parents or caregivers of someone addicted to opioids,” says Skinner. “It can give them the feeling of security and power in a situation in which they may otherwise feel powerless.”

At the same time, she says, “there’s always the risk of an active addict keeping naloxone to push the limits of overdose, rather than seeking recovery treatment.”

Bratberg thinks the need to have the drug available outweighs such concerns.

“Naloxone is like a fire extinguisher,” he says, something that can be vital in an emergency. Everyone should know how to use it if an opioid user stops breathing.

According to the CDC, one in four people with long-term opioid prescriptions, often written for back or neck pain, eventually struggle with opioid use disorder.

Making Narcan available over the counter can be a conversation starter for people who have never used opioids, those who have used them for valid medical reasons and those who actually abuse them. The ultimate goal of such conversations would be to raise everyone’s awareness of opioid dangers.

Even people who are addicted may not recognize that slowed or difficult breathing can signal a potentially fatal overdose.

Bratberg recalls a conversation with a man who was unaware of this despite abusing opioids for a decade.

Education is crucial now that naloxone is more widely available, Bratberg says. “We’re trying to make the public more aware. We’re trying to make caregivers more aware.”

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Echols’ brings passion for renewable energy to the Georgia Public Service Commission

Tim Echols first dreamed of holding statewide office when he was 20 years old, and three decades later he was 50 when first elected to the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2010. To get there, he had to beat two Republicans and a Democrat.

The 2016 contest to represent District 2 on the Commission was easier: Echols bested two challengers in the Republican primary, but in the general election on Nov. 8 he faced Eric Hoskins, a little-known Libertarian candidate. In an unprecedented result, Echols won statewide by a one million-vote margin. Ordinarily, this would not happen because many voters leave the box blank when an incumbent runs with only token opposition.

But Echols is not an ordinary candidate. He has a long history in conservative circles, having been a top adviser to former U.S. Congressman Paul Broun. He routinely speaks out against Environmental Protection Agency rules, he supports the expansion of nuclear plants in Georgia, and he believes hydraulic fracking should be used to help meet energy demands.

That said, Echols is passionate about renewable resources and clean energy . He’s especially big on solar power.

“As an Evangelical Christian, stewardship is very important to me, and that principle drives my energy philosophy as well,” said Echols. “Clean energy generated in our state is a win-win with better air quality, more jobs and lower transmission costs.”

Members of the Georgia Public Service Commission regulate utility companies in the state and wield considerable control over what consumers pay for electricity, natural gas and telecommunications. The PSC usually makes news when customers complain that they’re being overcharged so power companies can afford to build new nuclear plants or other major facilities.

Echols’ advocacy for renewable energy stands out in this setting.

“Renewable and clean energy should be an important issues for Georgia, and the Public Service Commission has been the primary driver and advocate for making sure that solar has had a chance to gain a market foothold,” says Thomas Lawrence, who coordinates the mechanical engineering program at the University of Georgia.

Alternative energy companies have gained a foothold in parts of Georgia where good jobs are scarce, Echols and Lawrence say

“There are more than 197 solar companies at work in Georgia, investing $79 million to install solar on home and business,” said Lawrence. “Georgia has very strong solar potential.”

Echols agrees. “Though we did not realize this when we began to approve vast amounts of solar, most of the panels are in middle or south Georgia where land is cheap and jobs are needed,” said Echols. “This has helped poorer counties increase land values and their tax base, which has helped schools and county infrastructure.”

Dr. David Gattie, an associate professor of environmental engineering at UGA, cautions that this growth will be slow and require innovation. “While solar energy farms here in Georgia have increased in recent years, it’s unlikely they — or any other renewable energy source — will overtake coal or natural gas as Georgia’s primary energy provider anytime soon.”

During his first six-year term on the PSC, Echols says he has helped Georgia move up the leader board for solar energy. Now he wants to keep the momentum going.

“When I took office, the power company was hostile towards solar, and that bothered me,” said Echols. “We changed the policies here in Georgia and made solar work for the utility, the landowners, the developers and the ratepayers, yet we have kept costs down. How can anyone argue with that?”

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Even top Athens chefs have fast-food secrets

Fruits, vegetables and broiled chicken breasts are healthy foods. Fast-food burgers, French fries and chocolate glazed donuts are not. Bombarded with dietary advice from all directions, this is common knowledge.

But even the most conscientious person, the one who buys only organic ingredients and eats at top restaurants, has a guilty pleasure. Doctors, personal trainers, even expert chefs, sometimes go rogue and head for the drive-through window.

This holds true even in Athens, according to nationally recognized chefs Hugh Acheson, Peter Dale and Joel Penn.

Trained chefs are food scientists as well as artists: they know the nutrient profiles of their ingredients and they understand how to prepare dishes that taste good and are good for you. Given this, it’s no surprise that chefs generally eat healthy diets.

Except when they don’t.

“When I’m not at work I try and keep it pretty healthy. Lately I’ve been into juicing, bulletproof coffee and focusing on more vegetables than meat,” said Peter Dale, chef and co-owner of The National, the Hancock Street eatery known for its Mediterranean-inspired menu and wine list.

“I try to make it a point to eat at local, independent spots as much as possible, as opposed to chains,” said Joel Penn, chef at Heirloom Café and Fresh Market – a Boulevard restaurant that specializes in modern riffs on southern heritage dishes.

Penn works with ingredients he buys from local farmers, because “I like to try and support my friends.”

Yet top chefs sometimes crave foods they know they’re not supposed to enjoy, but they do.

And they were willing to talk about what they all called “guilty pleasure food.”

“I eat a lot of raw carrots. Lots of salads. I try to eat well. But every month or so I crave an Arby’s roast beef sandwich,” said Hugh Acheson, famed chef and co-owner of two local restaurants, Five &Ten and The National.

Acheson and his partners also operate restaurants in Atlanta and Savannah.

A different fast-food chain is Penn’s secret vice. Like many college students, he is a huge Taco Bell fan.

“I like Taco Bell’s completely inauthentic take on Mexican food,” he said. “It’s hearty, fatty, and spicy – comfort food for me. I’m completely aware it’s super trashy and terrible for you, but I’ve loved it since high school, and I can’t quit it.”

Dale also craves the occasional dose of Mexican-style food, though he’s not really into Taco Bell.

“My unhealthy guilty pleasure is Gringo-style Mexican food,” Dale said. “With a frozen margarita on the side.”

Acheson doesn’t obsess about Mexican food, but chicken is a different matter.

“Popeye’s fried chicken is pretty rad. The chicken is crispy and cooked right. We just get the chicken and make our own sides fresh. Though I do like their red beans and rice.”

Chili cheese fries, ice cream and gelato, pizza, and Georgia’s own Chick-fil-A also made the list of the chefs’ high-calorie favorites.

“I try to eat as much responsibly-sourced meat as possible,” said Penn. “Obviously, fast food doesn’t fall into that category.”

He tries not to head for Taco Bell too often.

“I try to limit it to once a month or so, but sometimes it can be hard,” he said.

The National, Five &Ten and The Heirloom Café and Fresh Market are open seven days a week.

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Pocket constitutions a perk for precinct 8A voters

Sue Tullier and her daughter Austin had almost run out of pocket-sized U.S. Constitutions by mid-afternoon on Election Day. They’d been standing outside of Gaines School Elementary for hours, distributing tiny booklets bought with their own money.

“We are passing out Constitutions to keep people informed as to how their government operates,” said Austin Tullier. The women hope people will study up before they reach the booth.

“We figured – especially when the lines were longer – voters could peruse it as they waited in line since the battery isn’t going to run out in an hour and a half on a book.”

“So far we’ve given out 525,” says Sue Tullier, “We’ve had several people thank us and make comments such as ‘Good document. Good thing to have.’”

The mother and daughter are part of a bigger project — handing out 100 million copies of the Constitution nationwide — sponsored by non-profit freedomfactor.org.

According to the website the mission of this organization is to “educate millions of Americans on the basics of American government.” They want to promote the fundamentals so that “more knowledgeable citizens will build a better country.”

The organization sells pocket Constitutions cheaply and in bulk, and buyers can use them however they want.

“Our constitution is written very simply. Our forefathers spent a lot of time picking out which words they wanted to use,” said Stephanie Halmo, a UGA graduate student waiting in line to vote. She remembers studying the Constitution during in her AP Government course in high school.

“I think it’s true to say that a lot of citizens, a lot of natural born citizens, don’t know the Constitution nor understand the purpose of it,” said Michelle Ziadie, also a graduate student at UGA.

This is why Sue Tullier is so passionate about giving away free copies. “People don’t know the Constitution. They don’t know what the president or the justices are and are not allowed to do. Laws are made by congress. Not the president nor the Supreme Court,” Sue said. “So often they interpret law or enforce laws incorrectly that are against the Constitution when they have neither the power nor authority to do so.”

“I bet there are a lot of naturalized citizens who understand the Constitution much better than a lot of American born citizens do,” Ziadie said. Because, after all, they had to study the document to become citizens.

“In order to be a better informed voting community I think we do need to have a better understanding of the constitution,” she said.

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In Athens, Amendment 1 on Election Day ballot finds few backers

Amendment 1 is one of the more hotly debated issues on the Nov. 8 Georgia ballot. If passed, the amendment would put “chronically failing” schools in the hands of appointed officials heading a statewide program called the “Opportunity School District.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, the Georgia Board of Education, and some advocates favor this move. But it is being denounced by parents, teachers, future teachers and concerned citizens in Athens and elsewhere.

Gaines Elementary School is the only Clarke County school on the “failing” list, which includes 127 of Georgia’s 2,200 schools.

Schools end up on this list when their scores fall below 60 on a state assessment tool called the College and Career Ready Performance Index. Gaines scored 59.8.

Critics say the wording of the amendment is misleading.

“Amendment 1 is worded a little deceptively to make us think that it would increase local control and add more resources to our public schools,” said Briana Bivins, a regional field coordinator with a group formed to oppose the change. “What it really does, however, is transfer local dollars, resources, and decision making power away from the communities that really know our students best to a single, hand-picked political appointee who we don’t elect.”

Mary Kathryn Henderson, a University of Georgia junior majoring in education, agrees.

“The government officials that will step in and take over schools that are failing may or may not have a background in education — they might not know what’s good for the kids.”

Others think the idea of a statewide Opportunity School District is impractical.

“It’s already hard enough to hold together a local community of schools,” said Jonathan Bemid, a parent and a middle school teacher. If one school in a district is separated from the others, “it just causes more trouble than there needs to be.”

He also thinks the state’s test is not an accurate measure of a school’s performance.

It benefits schools whose students are well-supported at home and achieving at grade level.

“When a school has kids who are coming in as weak students before they even get to school then we just end up in a position where our schools look bad on paper when they aren’t,” Bemid said.

While everyone believes in improving schools, many believe Amendment 1 is not the best way to accomplish that.

“It totally circumvents the democratic process – creating an additional layer of bureaucracy and silencing both parents and teachers,” said Bivens. “It amounts to nothing more than a political power grab.”

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UGA’s College of Environment and Design ranked in top 10 nationally

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia College of Environment and Design earned top 10 rankings in four categories in DesignIntelligence magazine’s 2016-17 edition of America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools.

“These latest rankings reaffirm the quality our College of Environment and Design and just how innovative its degree programs are,” said Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Thanks to the college’s extraordinary faculty, its students graduate ready to help create a more sustainable future.”

The America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools survey is conducted annually, and this year nearly 3,000 hiring professionals from the disciplines of architecture, interior design and landscape architecture participated. In the landscape architecture program, UGA’s undergraduate program ranked fifth in the nation and its graduate program ranked ninth.

DesignIntelligence also recorded responses from 40 academic leaders for its Landscape Architecture Deans Survey. In that survey, UGA’s undergraduate landscape architecture ranked third for its emphasis on integrating design, sustainability and technology.

In the Landscape Architecture Skills Assessment-which tallies responses from hiring professionals to determine which collegiate programs are strongest in educating for various skill areas-UGA ranked fifth for computer applications.

“In this era in which multiple professions and institutions are discovering the creative power of ‘design thinking,’ it is quite an honor to have our students and faculty counted among the very best,” said Dean Daniel Nadenicek.

The College of Environment and Design
The UGA College of Environment and Design is one of the most established programs of its kind in the U.S. and consistently ranks among the top 10 environment and design schools. The college offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in landscape architecture and graduate degrees in historic preservation and environmental planning. For more information, visit http://www.ced.uga.edu.

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Aging, life-extension researcher will give fall 2016 Charter Lecture

Cynthia Kenyon, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the molecular biology and genetics of aging and life extension, will return to UGA to deliver the fall 2016 Charter Lecture.

Her lecture, “Aging and the Immortal Germline,” is open free to the public. It will be held Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m. in the Chapel.

Kenyon, who graduated as valedictorian with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biochemistry from UGA in 1976, is the vice president of aging research for Calico LLC, a Google-funded company focused on aging research and therapeutics. She has been a global pioneer in aging research since her team’s 1993 discovery that a single-gene mutation could double the lifespan of C. elegans (roundworms). This discovery led to the realization that such a pathway exists and influences aging rates in many species.

Kenyon earned her doctorate from MIT in 1981 and later became a postdoctoral fellow with Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner in Cambridge, England, where she first began studying the development of C. elegans.

In 1986, Kenyon joined the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco, where she served as a professor of biochemistry and biophysics for 27 years. At UC-San Francisco, she was named a Herb Boyer Distinguished Professor and served as director of the Larry L. Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging.

In 2014, Kenyon accepted her current position as vice president of aging research at Calico.

Kenyon is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine. She is also an American Cancer Society Professor and the former president of the Genetics Society of America.

Charter Lectures are sponsored by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, and Kenyon’s lecture is part of UGA’s Signature Lecture series.

“Dr. Kenyon’s groundbreaking work exemplifies how fundamental insights gained through basic research can have a transformative impact on individuals and society,” said Senior Vice President for ­Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. “We are delighted to welcome her back to her alma mater, where interest in the STEM fields among students is booming and a growing number of our faculty are focusing their research on inquiring and innovating to improve human health.

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