SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Opioid addiction is prevalent not only in Georgia but the nation, and with rehab centers seeing a decline, the community has to be stronger than ever.

“Whether we’re personally impacted or not, it’s something that’s impacting our communities across Georgia,” said Dr. Maulik Patel, an internal and geriatric physician at Memorial Health.

In April, Patel and another Memorial Health physician, Dr. Jay Goldstein, were featured in a Georgia Public Broadcast documentary on the current opiate crisis in America titled “Crisis of Substance.”

“It sends such a strong message to the population, to the community, to the world, because of what’s going on with this opiate epidemic,” said Goldstein, an ER physician.

In Georgia, there were 2,390 drug overdose deaths in 2021, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Seventy-one percent of those death were due to opioids, and 57% from fentanyl.

“Significant upticks on a number of overdoses. In the past with certain drugs, we used to see significant overdoses but not so much deaths,” said Goldstein. “Now we’re seeing (an) opiate crisis, with opiate overdoses and now significant deaths.”

Dr. Jay Goldstein and Dr. Maulik Patel

Laced drugs

Goldstein says people are unknowingly buying drugs laced with an opiate or fentanyl.

“So we’re seeing this with methamphetamines, we’re seeing it in marijuana, we’re seeing it in cocaine, we’re seeing it in so many different drugs that are out there that the consumer doesn’t even realize they’re getting opioids,” said Goldstein.

Knowing what you are getting or even what you think you are receiving from a dealer can be difficult to know, with many dealers not knowing if their supply is laced or not.

“It is very challenging nowadays because even THC that was probably on the streets 10 or 20 years earlier is not the same THC that’s on the streets now,” said Patel.

The number of physicians reported by the media who were charged relating to opioid-related offenses has tripled since 2000. Goldstein says that over the past five to six years, physicians have been trying to limit the number of narcotics for pain due to their addictive nature, citing that Tylenol is a strong painkiller as well.

“I think some of it maybe gone a little bit too far that people that need narcotics aren’t getting them. People that need some pain management aren’t getting them just because we’re trying so hard not to give pain medicines,” said Goldstein.

Patel’s catalyst to speak out on the opiate crisis through this documentary came when he prescribed short-term opioid medication to a patient of his. After using the medication, the patient had concerns about becoming addicted, feeling a strong need to take the medication even though the pain was gone.

“The biggest thing to understand about prescription of any medicine, and particularly opiates, is understanding where are the true reasons, where the benefit outweighs the risks,” said Patel.


Goldstein recalls a patient visit where he had to save the same person’s life three times within the same emergency visit.

“Even though she knew she almost died three times, she kept going back and trying to use again, so this is real,” said Goldstein. “I mean, the addiction is real, the effect is real and the opportunity for death with these drugs is real.”

Although EMS drug overdose trips have decreased overall since 2022 in Georgia, 15 counties saw an increase in overdose trips, at 75%, since January 2023.

For family members who are concerned that their loved one may be becoming addicted to opiates, Patel advises: “Number one is what are the concerns that this family member has as to why they think this person is addicted to opiate?”

He notes that caregivers should avoid passing judgment on those who use opiates, seeing their need for the medication as addiction, because there are many instances where someone is experiencing horrendous pain and need the medication.

“And for someone to walk by and give that type of a bias is also unwelcoming,” said Patel.

The documentary highlights the need for community engagement, and that this crisis also needs teamwork among organizations, providers and hospitals.

“Coming together to say, what is our net of support from point A to point Z to really curb this epidemic, and that’s when we need to really call on that community resource,” said Patel.

Due to the lack of funding, addiction resource centers across the country have seen a decline.

“We actually probably need more centers and more opportunity and more resources and funding to go into the crisis and the addiction medicine,” said Goldstein. “A lot of them closed down through the years just because they were unable to afford to remain open.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing drug addiction, call 1-800-662-4357.