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Criminal justice professionals share expertise on opioid crisis

University of North Georgia junior Jordan Griffin talks to Greg Dozier, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections after a panel discussion about the opioid crisis Sept. 25 on UNG's Gainesville Campus. Dr. Tae Choo, professor of criminal justice who organized the event, listens from behind.

Normally, Jordan Griffin would not drive to the University of North Georgia's Gainesville Campus on a Tuesday morning, especially since her classes are on the Dahlonega Campus. But when the criminal justice major learned a panel presentation on the opioid crisis featured state and local law enforcement figures, Griffin knew she had to go.

"This is what I want to do for a living," the 19-year-old from Winder, Georgia, said. "Plus I have an emotional connection to this issue because of family ties with the opioid problem."

Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr, the first speaker of the five-person panel, pointed out the opioid crisis touches many lives.

"The opioid crisis can affect any person's family," Carr said, adding addiction does not discriminate in regards to education, geography, gender, race, ethnicity, or economic status. "Just last year, the epidemic stole 1,043 lives in Georgia."

He explained no single solution is going to fix the opioid crisis, which is why "it will take an all-in effort from the brightest people" to find solutions. To accomplish that goal, the state has formed a statewide task force to tackle the problem.

"We have a number of folks who are passionate about this issue," Carr said during his presentation.

A handful of them attended and spoke at the opioid crisis panel titled "Opioid Problems in Our Community" in the auditorium in the Continuing Education/Performing Arts building. Panelists were Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; Jonathan Eisenstat, chief medical examiner at the GBI; Jason Deal, superior court judge and chairman of the Council of Accountability Courts; and Greg Dozier, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Each member recounted some of their professional experiences with the opioid crisis. For example, Keenan talked about the over-manufacturing of drugs and pill mills. Eisenstat recounted overdose cases he has seen as medical examiner. Deal recalled four specific addicts he has dealt with in drug court while Dozier revealed the problems of meth appearing in the prison system.

Griffin said she appreciated the panel containing a range of perspectives from the criminal justice experts.

"I thought it was really amazing," the UNG junior said. "I thought it was just going to focus on one area, but it had officials from the medical, law enforcement and judicial fields."

Providing the different views for UNG students was the intended goal, said Dr. Brent Paterline, head of the Department of Criminal Justice at UNG.

"It shows that the criminal justice system not only puts people in jail, but about how the system can help people, too," he said.

Paterline credited Dr. Tae Choo, professor of criminal justice, with procuring the high-profile officials to speak at UNG. He also admitted he was pleased by the number of criminal justice majors who attended from all campuses.

"They had great questions," he said. "I was impressed with what they asked."

Carr also appreciated UNG providing him and his colleagues a forum to educate students about the opioid crisis and drug trends.

"We appreciate the University of North Georgia for raising awareness and leading change in the northeast Georgia community,” he said.

Choo said after hearing the speeches he hopes students will apply what they learned in class to the real problems to enhance their critical and analytical thinking.

"They would be able to analyze the situation, apply what academic theories are relevant to the issues we have right now and evaluate the policies and strategies to fight the opioid overdose and related problems," she said.

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