Escanaba, Michigan Battles Opioid Epidemic
Escanaba is a lovely and relatively isolated community of just over 12,000 people. Located in the rural upper peninsula of Michigan, it rests on Lake Michigan itself, and is actually only 2 hours north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Historically, it’s known for lumbering, as well as sportsman outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing.
It’s also the home of a heroin and opioid epidemic.
Like many states, Michigan is not immune to the prescription drug plague that was been sweeping the county. According to Lt. Robert LaMarche, the problem is so severe that they are “finding needles all over the city”. In response, the police have decided to try a novel approach – they have agreed to not arrest any person who enters the station seeking drug treatment voluntarily.
Since February, 2016, the ANGEL Volunteer Program has assisted at least 6 people. The program is modeled after a similar successful program began by a police chief in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The program’s purpose is to permit addicts who are looking to recover to have an opportunity to enroll in a treatment program.
The program is among a a several new plans to fight the scourge of opioid addiction that has increased over the past ten years. Legislature also intends to combat the opioid epidemic, including a $2.5 million overhaul of Michigan’s prescription monitoring database.
In addition, family members may have an easier time accessing drugs, such as the anti-overdose drug naloxone, which saves the lives of people in the throws of an opioid overdose.
Since 1999, opioid-related overdose deaths have tripled in Michigan. Over 1,700 persons died in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the mid-90’s Purdue Pharma and others began heavily marketing opioid painkillers, perfectly timed on the heels of complaints that doctors were under-treating pain. As the addictive and dangerous nature of these drugs because known, however, doctors started cracking down on prescriptions.
As a result, some turned to heroin when they could no longer access prescription drugs, or they became too expensive. Michigan State police seized more than 8,000 grams of heroin in 2015, which is almost twice the amount of the previous year.
Information gathered from the Michigan Automated Prescription System reveals that over 21 million prescriptions for controlled substances were written in 2014. That’s up from 17 million in 2007. One of the problems with the database, experts say, is that it isn’t updated in real time.
“Prescription drug diversion” is a term which describes the transfer of legally prescribed controlled substances from an individual for whom it was prescribed to another person for illicit use. According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, this activity costs the health care industry around $70 billion annually. Commonly, this happens when pills are sold or given away to friends and family members.
Improving Michigan’s prescription monitoring system is just one of more than 20 recommendations included in a 2015 task force report, intended to combat Michigan’s opioid epidemic.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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