LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Prescription drug and opioid abuse is a deadly problem that’s worsening in Michigan and across the country.
Michigan ranks 10th nationally in per capita prescription rates of opioid pain relievers. Experts say painkiller abuse often leads to heroin use. Additionally, Michigan’s rate of heroin-related overdose deaths per 100,000 residents doubled from 4.9 in 2009 to 9.8 in 2013, and the state now ranks 18th nationally in all overdose deaths.
To battle the growing issue, Gov. Rick Snyder assembled a task force in mid-June to examine prescription drug and opioid abuse. Monday, that task force released its report, which included m ore than two dozen recommendations for changes in regulations and practices.
Dr. Corey Waller, who specializes in integrative medicine at Spectrum Health, is on the task force. He told 24 Hour News 8 Monday that the most important recommendation on the list is a push to make naloxone, also known as Narcan, more accessible.
Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, whether it’s from heroin or a prescription painkiller. Waller said it can save lives and should be available over the counter.
“This is a safe drug. I could give it to myself and there would be nothing,” Waller said.
“It would not change the way in which they use,” Waller said.
The Red Project in Grand Rapids works to reduce the risk of HIV and often deals with substance abuse. Monday, its executive director, Steve Alsum, showed 24 Hour News 8 three variations of naloxone rescue kits, which the agency has been distributing the kits since 2008.
“What that’s resulted in, is over 260 times somebody we had trained and issued a kit to, reporting back to us that they were able to successfully use one of these kits to reverse an overdose and potentially save somebody’s life,” Alsum said.
A bill that recently passed the Michigan House would provide protection for minors who call 911 if a friend or family member is overdosing. Waller said another important goal of the task force report is the push to expand those so-called “good Samaritan laws” and limit criminal penalties for people of all ages in those situations.
“It would really enable someone in that very scary situation to call 911 and know that they’re not going to have to pay a price for doing the right thing,” Waller said.
Waller also highlighted the recommendation to create a public awareness campaign addressing the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Alsum said it’s important that the problem is not swept under the rug.
“We really need the community to know about this issue. We need to start talking about it as an issue. People are dying right now and we’re not going to start to see that decrease until we do address this issue as a community,” Alsum said.