Seven elected officials from throughout Bartow County convened at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center in Cartersville Wednesday morning to sign a proclamation celebrating National Recovery Month.
2020 marks the 31st annual observance of National Recovery Month, with this year’s theme being “Join Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections.”
Joining Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor at the signing was Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini, Emerson Mayor Al Pallone, Euharlee Mayor Steve Worthington and White Mayor Kim Dupree Billue.
Also applying their signatures to the proclamation were District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R, Cartersville) and Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Rosemary Greene.
“Addiction is a complex illness that involves the functions of the brain and affects people of all ages, races, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds,” Taylor read the proclamation. “Addiction poses enormous physical, medical and economic costs on both the affected individuals’ families and communities.”
Taylor asked residents to join in with organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, the Georgia Association of Recovery Residences and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to offer “hope, determination and perseverance” to those battling substance dependency issues.
“Education about recovery and addiction is essential to combatting the stigma and discrimination faced by people in recovery and is needed by all Georgians, including public health and safety officials, the workforce and older adults and families,” Taylor stated.
And as the DPH notes, those already high figures are likely an undercount.
“There are many overdose events that are not represented in the system, including those who die before reaching an emergency department, or overdose cases who are treated by non-emergency department/urgent care facility entities,” the department states.
“I know the data is gathered at the emergency rooms,” Taylor said. “There is just so much underlying behind that … we talked to our fire chief and all of our public safety folks all the time, and I think they are out there saving lives in big amounts.”
Santini addressed statements he considered “loud wrong” regarding the county’s overdose data.
“The fact that the number, the per capita number of emergency room visits is as high as it is, the claim was made that it was an indication that our community didn’t care,” he said. “The implication that this community doesn’t treat every individual with care and treat them as human beings, I think this is blatantly false."
Rather, Santini contends that the reason why Bartow County reports such a large volume of overdose-related emergency visits is an indication "that our fire department, that our ambulance services, that all of our public safety folks are carrying Narcan and saving people to the point that we get them to the emergency room."
Over the last month, Santini claimed that at least 12 residents within the city limits of Cartersville alone are alive today after being administered the nasal spray, which counteracts the often fatal effects of certain drug overdoses.
”If anybody is out there thinking that the elected officials and every public safety person in our community in general doesn’t care about the crisis that we’re under, you’re just absolutely wrong,” he said.
When it comes to overdose calls, Cartersville Fire Chief Scott Carter said the numbers tend to fluctuate.
“There are no real social or economic lines, it happens everywhere,” he told The Daily Tribune News in an email statement. “I would say we would average two-three a week and then it drops off and then picks up.”
It’s not uncommon, he said, to see repeat overdoses.
“We have some patients that we have ran several times,” he said.
City of Cartersville fire services, he said, averages about $2,000-$2,500 a year on Narcan expenditures.
“We have been successful in turning a high percentage of overdoses, who are literally lifeless when we arrive, around so they can make it for treatment at our local ER and other facilities,” he said.
At the moment, Santini said there are no budgeted items to further address substance abuse within the City of Cartersville — i.e., additional City-funded programs or initiatives.
“The main way that I feel like our local government is set up, it’s basically just to provide those medical services to try to save those people that find themselves in an overdose,” he said. “We make an investment in Narcan, which is pretty significant, we also have training to make sure our public safety folks are equipped to be able to handle those situations when they come upon them.”
However, Santini said he believes City officials would likely not be opposed to a partnership — albeit, to a limited capacity — if more treatment services or substance abuse programming came to the community.
“We make what I would consider a nominal contribution for contract-for-services with the homeless shelter,” he said. “If there is a rehabilitation service or something that comes into place here, I would anticipate that we would do something similar.”
Santini did not indicate the City of Cartersville is explicitly seeking any State or federal funds for such programs.
That said, he noted that the local government does work closely with the Bartow County Grant Writing Department.
“They’re constantly working on areas of need, and I’m sure this is one of them,” he said. “And certainly, the folks at Recovery Bartow, if there are grants out there that are available or [they would] be applicable through that, then they would be aggressively pursuing that.”
DPH data indicates Bartow’s drug overdose emergency department visit rate in July 2020
stood at 35.8 per 100,000 residents — the fourth highest rate in the entire state.