ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 400 parents and students gathered to Rockford High School Tuesday evening to learn about the opioid crisis at an event organizers hope was the first of many held throughout West Michigan.
The opioid epidemic, which is hitting West Michigan along with the rest of the nation, does not discriminate. Anyone could be affected in what is called “the new face of addiction.”
“‘Not my kid, not my house, not my school, not my church, not my problem,'” Jeanne Kapenga said people think of the crisis. “It is a problem.”
She’s a private practice physician in the field of addiction medicine and the president of the local chapter of Families Against Narcotics.
“It just makes common sense to educate the kids now to the dangers of trying opioids even once,” Kapenga said. “So that’s our hope here, is the prevention through education.”
She said meetings like the one held Tuesday are needed to battle a problem that keeps growing.
“Two percent of adults and 2.5 percent of children are addicted to opiate drugs, already, from the state statistics,” Kapenga said.
>>Inside woodtv.com: The opioid crisis in West Michigan
Speaking at the meeting was Austin Eubanks, a survivor of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. Eubanks was wounded in that shooting and his best friend was killed. He told the moving story of the day he saw his best friend die and how he dealt with that pain — and the pain of his wounds — with opiates. He needed pain relief, but he found himself struggling with addiction for years.
“Because of the emotional pain that I was in as a result of that tragedy, I became addicted almost immediately,” Eubanks said.
He said that while his experience is extraordinary, his addiction is all too common.
“If you take an opiate for seven days, there’s a 10 percent likelihood that you will be addicted to it a year later,” Eubanks said. “That 10 percent is literally hundreds of thousands of people.”
“There’s now more people dying every year as a result of overdose than there ever was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, from automobile accidents or from gun violence,” he added.
Mental health, law enforcement, addiction treatment and others came out for the meeting, and there was a demonstration on how to use the lifesaving overdose medication Narcan.
Families Against Narcotics meets monthly in Grand Rapids. Members hope to see events like the one at Rockford High School at every high school.