Drug Safety

In the News

We should have made the opioid crisis OUR problem from the start

"Our cultural disposition is to initially place blame and responsibility solely on the afflicted -- or addicted -- individual. This accusatory mindset leads to a disproportionate emphasis on criminalizing the behavior, rather than addressing it as a societal problem that we all must own...It is time to break this dangerous pattern," writes Emory President Claire E. Sterk for CNN


Drug deaths may be intentional – suicide or homicide – or accidental. Death from accidental drug overdose has become a national crisis, and Georgia is no exception.  In 1999, the death toll from drug overdoses was 300 and as of 2011 deaths have climbed to over 1,000.  Recently, CDC has issued opioid prescription guidelines that were targeted to primary care providers, who are responsible for approximately half of all opioid prescriptions.  However, there is a lack of data on the prescribing habits of all providers.  Additionally, people who are already dependent on opioids are likely to switch to heroin as the supply of opioids becomes less available.  Since prescribing behaviors are likely to differ across states, it is important to have state-specific data to address the issues.


Task force goals are be data driven and will aim to dramatically reduce drug injury and death in Georgia.  The initial objective is to identify data sources and analyses that provide accurate information on drug injury and death in Georgia, assess the strengths and limitations of the data, and develop an action plan.  The priorities and action plan depend upon what data exist and its strengths, limitations, and accessibility.


Sheila Pierce, MPH – Opioid Program Coordinator and Director of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, Georgia Department of Public Health

Alaina Steck, MD Assistant Professor, Emory School of medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine

Leadership and Program Support

Sharon Nieb, PhD – IPRCE Associate Program Director 

Task Force Member Organizations

Alliant Quality

  • Michael Crooks  Opioid Safety & Pharmacy Interventions Technical Lead

Centers for Disease Control

  • Laura Edison, MPH – Epidemiologist – Georgia Department of Public Health
  • John Zibbell, PhD – Heatlh Scientist

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

  • Maneesha Agarwal, MD – Assistant Professor, Emory School of Medicine
  • Harold Simon, MD, MBA – Vice Chair of Pediatrics, Emory School of Medicine

Davis Direction Foundation

  • Missy Owen – President

Emory Rollins School of Public Health

  • Hannah Cooper, ScD – Associate Professor
  • Courtney Yarbrough, PhD – Assistant Professor

Emory School of Medicine

  • Karen Kuehn Howell, PhD – Assistant Professor
  • Jerry Kalangara, MD  Assistant Professor 
  • George Leach, MD – Assistant Professor
  • Alaina Steck, MD – see above

Georgia Department of Public Health

  • Bianca Anderson, MPH – Opioid Program Evaluator
  • Rana Bayakly, MPH – Chief Epidemiologist
  • Jennifer Burkholder, RN, MSN, MPH  Deputy Chief Nurse of Emergency Preparedness
  • Stephanie Gitukui – Public Health Analyst
  • Nicholas Heaghney – Opioids Compliance Specialist
  • Bruce Jeffries, PA, MA – see above
  • Sheila Pierce – Prescription Drug Management Program Director
  • Irene Walker, MPH – Epidemiologist

Georgia Division of Aging Services

  • Jennifer Hogan, MSW – Disaster Preparedness Coordinator

Georgia Health Policy Center

  • Brigitte Manteuffel, PhD – Senior Research Associate

Georgia Overdose Prevention

  • Andy Gish, RN – Overdose Prevention Educator

Georgia Poison Center

  • Britni Overall – Education Development Supervisor

Georgia Prevention Project

  • James B. Langford, MBA – Executive Director

Georgia State University

  • Sheryl Strasser, PhD – Associate Professor


  • Ashish Advani, PharmD – Founder

Lacey Drug Company

  • Larry Braden, PharmD – President

Medical Association of Georgia Foundation

  • Lori Murphy – Director of Development

Navicent Health

  • J. Paul Seale, MD – Family Medicine Physician

Safe Kids Georgia

  • Mahwish Javed, MS, MPH – Program Coordinator

University of Georgia

  • Jayani Jayawardhana, PhD – Associate Professor, Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy

US Department of Justice

  • Jennifer Whitfield, JD – Assistant United States Attorney

Note:  Some members are also members of the US Attorney’s Office Heroin Working Group for Northeast Georgia

Meeting Structure

Monthly – 90 minutes