FILE - fentanyl

This photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Phoenix Division shows some of the 30,000 fentanyl pills the agency seized in one of its bigger busts, in Tempe, Ariz.

(The Center Square) — Georgia is seeing increasing numbers of fentanyl-involved overdose deaths, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), between May 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021, fentanyl-involved overdose deaths increased 106.2% compared to the previous year. Between 2019 to 2021, fentanyl-involved overdose deaths increased by 218.4%, claiming the lives of 1,248 Georgians.

Fentanyl can be made illegally and is found in opioids and other street drugs. On Tuesday, the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Georgia, called on President Joe Biden "to permanently schedule Fentanyl so we can get this dangerous drug off our streets."

"Fentanyl overdoses are at an all-time high. This drug, often disguised as a simple painkiller, is ravaging our communities," Carter said in a statement. "As a pharmacist, I am calling on the public to never take a pill that does not come directly from a pharmacy, no matter how innocent it may seem."

Earlier this month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 500, a measure that opens the door to $636 million for state and local governments’ opioid treatment and prevention efforts. The money is part of a $26 billion multistate opioid settlement with three pharmaceutical distributors – Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — and opioid manufacturer and marketer Johnson & Johnson.

In fiscal 2021, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it stopped more than 11,200 pounds of fentanyl crossing the southern border. But much more is being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers signed off on a measure, House Bill 1175, to decriminalize the use of fentanyl testing strips. While HB 1175 is primarily focused on regulating raw milk in the Peach State, the measure specific to decriminalizing testing strips was added as an amendment during the last day of the session.

Kaiser Health News quoted state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, as calling the measure "a commonsense solution to save lives."