If you talk to members of Families Against Narcotics, local law enforcement, emergency medical first responders and EMS crews, emergency room personnel at McLaren Lapeer Region and afflicted families, they will tell you Lapeer County continues to experience an opioid epidemic.
But it’s not just here. It’s in Genesee County, in Sanilac and St. Clair counties and across Michigan. People are dying, or their lives are scarred by addiction, hospitalization and incarceration.
It’s not somebody else’s problem to fix. Prescription drug misuse is a serious problem in Lapeer County and Michigan. Drug overdose deaths are on the rise across the state. Two types of prescription drugs are the leading cause of misuse — painkillers (opioids) and tranquilizers (benzodiazepines). Opioids include both illegal drugs, such as heroin, and prescription pain medicine. Common opioids used to treat pain include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and codeine. Synthetic opioids are contributing to the crisis, too. Synthetic opioids that are appearing locally and across the state include fentanyl and carfentanil. These drugs are far more powerful and deadly than other opioids and are frequently mixed with heroin, often times without the user knowing.
The question is often asked by social workers, by family members and the emergency first responders what can be done to help people who often don’t think they have a problem, won’t seek help or when they do are soon sent on their way by institutions that don’t have the financial means, personnel or physical space to provide long-term care.
The answer is intervention. The answer is to treat opioid addiction like the public health crisis it is.
That effort may have received a boost last week when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed executive order 2019-18 creating the Michigan Opioids Task Force, which will bring together leaders from across state government to tackle the opioid epidemic. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the State of Michigan and chief deputy director for health for the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), will serve as chair of the task force.
The task force will be charged with identifying the root causes of the opioid epidemic and implementing response actions to help Lapeer County residents struggling with opioid addiction access the recovery services they need.
“As governor, my number one priority is protecting our families and our overall public health,” said Whitmer. “Right now, Michigan is among the states with the highest levels of opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths, with 2,053 overdoses in 2017 alone. This task force will bring us one step closer to finally ending the opioid epidemic in Michigan and keeping families safe.”
By convening the expertise of numerous state departments, the task force will bring tools to bear and work across systems to meet individuals struggling with addiction where they are. Focuses include increasing access to medication assisted treatment, harm reduction, and specialized populations like pregnant women and returning citizens.
Individuals leaving McLaren Lapeer after an overdose and the Lapeer County Jail after an arrest are at extremely high risk when they are released. The task force will work to build coordinated care between substance use disorder treatment provided across the system and warm handoffs to community based services.
Over 11 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2016, enough for at least one opioid prescription for every person in Michigan. According to the MDHHS, Michigan ranks 13th in opioid deaths in the nation, and many of these deaths are in rural areas like Lapeer County where certified addiction specialists are rare.
Beating the opioid crisis must be a priority in Lapeer County, and that includes taking an assessment of available resources. If they’re insufficient, they must be bolstered. Perhaps a local task force, similar to what’s being launched at the state level, would help shepherd the best talent and resources in Lapeer County to tackle the epidemic.
Now is the time to act.