UGA Professors Analyze Trends and Causes Behind Opioid Epidemic


Professor Jayani Jayawardhana’s initial research shows white males as being the leaders in opioid addiction (photo/ Lia Jordan,

ATHENS, GEORGIA — University of Georgia (UGA) professors Randall Tackett,Jayani Jayawardhana, and Matthew Perri are researching causes and trends behind the opioid epidemic in northeast Georgia.

Although the three professors are conducting separate studies, they all are investigating the causes behind the rising use of opioids on UGA’s campus and northeast Georgia. Professor Randall Tackett, a pharmacy professor at UGA, studies abused drugs. He deals with students on UGA’s campus who struggle with addiction to opioids and runs programs in school systems to help with addiction. He uses his studies to educate attorneys and other healthcare professionals to help them become better informed.

“I think that Athens and UGA have students that have problems with this; it’s not unique. Just about every school or campus is going to have some degree of the problem. I have talked to students who have problems with narcotics and opioids,” Tackett said.

The problem is the drugs are being prescribed by professionals, thus victims feel safe when using them. Professor Tackett explained that opioids are unique because they bind to a specific receptor in the body called the opioid receptor. These drugs are prescribed because they modify a person’s perception of pain and are primarily used as pain relievers.

“People feel like prescription drugs are safe, and some people feel like if they have a prescription they can’t have a problem with these drugs. People feel like prescription drugs are pure, unlike street drugs,” Tackett stated.

To curb the rising use of opioids in Georgia, there was a policy change to Medicare in 2013 that implemented limits to prescription medication.

The above graph shows the number of opioid-related deaths in Georgia over the course of ten years. Cobb and Fulton County were graphed as well because they had the two highest respective numbers of opioid-related death of all counties within Georgia in 2016. The data is from the Georgia Department of Public Health. (graph/ Mara Weissinger

“The policy’s goal was to reduce the opioid issue in the state, but we do not know whether or not it actually has,” said Professor Jayawardhana, a pharmaceutical economics professor at UGA.

Professor Jayawardhana has teamed up with Matthew Perry, a clinical and administrative pharmacy professor at UGA, to analyze the trends of opioid addiction before and after the policy was implemented. The number of prescriptions being written, dosages, and addiction within the Medicare population have all been on the rise according to the initial stages of the study.

The study analyzes people between the ages of 18 to 64, and then divides them into four categories, by gender, race, and insurance type. According to the study’s initial results, white males have the highest statistics of opioid abuse.

“Yes opioids are a problem,” Professor Jayawardhana said, “but you cannot ban them because they are needed for certain types of patients.”

Professor Jayawardhana believes that it is a matter of determining how to use these drugs to best maximize their benefits, but not have them available as freely. Through their research, the professors aim to shed light on the issue’s complexity to determine the underlying factors behind the epidemic and thus reduce the rising statistics of opioid abuse in Georgia.

Listen below to an interview with Forensic specialist and peer coach Riley Kirkpatrick and Director of Business Development Evan Mills as they explain their program and observations at Advantage Behavioral Health regarding the victims of opioid abuse in Athens, Georgia.

Watch the video below to see how Roosevelt at UGA, a club that aims to empower students through civic engagement and provide platforms for critical thinkers, is raising awareness on the opioid crisis on UGA’s campus. Speakers Aditya Krishnaswamy and Jessica Ma hope that speaking out about the problem will bring more awareness to the issue.

Watch the video below to learn more behind the national opioid crisis. Professor Randall Tackett of the UGA School of Pharmacy dives deeper into what exactly an opioid is and the characteristics of typical victims. He also discusses what can be done to mitigate the problem not only UGA’s campus, but the nation as a whole.

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