Research / Public Safety

SLC Issue Brief | October 2018

The Growth of Synthetic Opioids in the South

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

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The drug epidemic, driven in large part by the ongoing opioid crisis, continues to ravage tens of thousands of families and communities across the United States. The latest provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in September 2018, estimated that more than 71,500 drug overdose deaths occurred nationally between January 2017–January 2018, an increase of 6.6 percent during the same period the previous year, and 31.4 percent higher compared to January 2015– January 2016.1 In the Southern region, drug overdoses were responsible for more than 24,000 deaths in 2017, approximately one-third of the national total.

This SLC Issue Brief reviews the rise of dangerous synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, and their evolving role within the broader opioid crisis afflicting the United States. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the popularity of fentanyl and related synthetic opioids will remain unchallenged for the next several years, making it crucial for state and local leaders to understand the extent of the crisis and identify potential solutions for its mitigation.

Policy Analysis | August 2018

Suicide Rates in the South

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

In June 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report documenting the high – and growing – number of suicides across the United States. In 2016, the last year for which the CDC has comprehensive data, 45,000 people died by suicide, an increase of 25.4 percent over 1999 levels. Nevada, where deaths by suicide were down 1 percent between 1999-2016, was the only state that did not experience an increase during this period.

Seven of the 15 states in the South, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia, experienced increases in suicide rates between 1999-2016 that were higher than the national average of 25.4 percent. The remaining seven states in the region were below the average, from a high of 24.2 percent in Tennessee, to a low of 10.6 percent in Florida.

Among Southern states, Oklahoma had the highest number of deaths by suicide per capita in 2016, with 21 per 100,000, followed by West Virginia, Missouri and Arkansas, all of which were among the top 15 nationally in this category. Meanwhile, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas had the fewest number of suicides per 100,000 in the South, with rates of 13.0, 12.7 and 12.6, respectively. The national average was 13.5 deaths by suicide per 100,000, a number surpassed by 10 states in the SLC region.

There are many factors that can cause a person to consider suicide, including relationship problems, substance abuse disorders, financial difficulties, deterioration in physical health, personal crises, legal problems and loss of housing. Additionally, approximately 46 percent of suicide cases in 2016 included individuals with known mental health conditions.

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Policy Analysis | June 2018

Distracted Driving Laws in SLC Member States

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

In recent years, states across the South have enacted laws to mitigate distracted driving caused by the proliferation of cell phones and other portable electronic devices. The extent to which the laws impact drivers varies by state, though there are similarities across the region. Fourteen of 15 SLC member states, for example, prohibit all drivers from texting while driving and one, Missouri, prohibits texting by all drivers under the age of 21. Similarly, 10 of the 15 states prohibit all usage of wireless communication devices by novice drivers, generally defined as drivers under 18 years old who hold restricted licenses. Most states in the region have not implemented statewide bans on hand-held devices; however, several states have prohibited the use of hand-held devices in certain areas, such as designated school zones. Only Georgia and West Virginia have banned hand-held devices for all drivers.

Penalties vary widely across the region. Most states have implemented a tiered system whereby drivers face increasingly severe penalties for each subsequent offense. Eight states have fees that do not surpass $100 per violation, while another five states have fees that range between $100 and $300. Two states, Arkansas and Louisiana, permit fees up to $500 and $1,000, respectively, for repeat offenders.

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Katrina Shealy

South Carolina

Vice Chair
Representative Fredrick Love, Arkansas

Fredrick J. Love


Past Chair

(former) Senator
Doug Overbey


Roger Moore

Roger Moore
Policy Analyst

Ensuring the public’s general welfare and protection are among states’ most pressing concerns, with both areas constituting considerable shares of state budgets. The SLC Human Services & Public Safety Committee has a broad agenda, which takes into account the challenges states face in the areas of human services and corrections, as well as policies and programs that address them. The committee frequently undertakes assessments of pressing health issues including the national opioid crisis, organ donations and long-term care, as well as various corrections issues such as aging inmate populations, female offenders and mental health parity in prisons.

More SLC Research into Public Safety

SLC Regional Resource | May 2018

Opioids and Organ Donations: A Tale of Two Crises

SLC Regional Resource | April 2017

Body-Worn Cameras: Laws and Policies in the South

Policy Analysis | March 2017

Human Trafficking

Policy Analysis | June 2016

Pardons in SLC Member States