Across the country the opioid addiction epidemic has exploded, with overdose cases and deaths rocking communities, from small blue-collar towns to large metropolitan centers. Daily 39,000 people gain access to and begin using opioids for non-medical use and, of those individuals, 78 die from overdose, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nationwide, the economic impact of this crisis is insurmountable. HHS estimates the cost of emergency department and inpatient care for opioid poisonings has reached $20 billion.

The dangers of illicit opioid use, addiction and overdose is prevalent. In December, Michigan State Police seized more than 1,000 oxycodone pills during a routine traffic stop in southern Wayne County. Detroit Police also recently raided a home used as a fentanyl lab and found four children were living there.

While incidents like these hit headlines from coast to coast, the real news is what’s being done about it. Law enforcement officials are closing in on the source and working together with human service organizations to save lives, sometimes one person at a time. The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is on the forefront of the response, opening the safety net in Wayne County, catching many of those who fall victim to opioid addiction and overdose. DWMHA has introduced several programs to respond to the opioid crisis, help prevent access to illicit drugs and save lives.

A naloxone kit training and distribution program was launched in March of last year. Naloxone is the groundbreaking FDA-approved medication used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Training is offered to first responders, treatment/prevention specialists, schools and community organizations within Wayne County. Each trainee receives a kit, which DWMHA will replace free of charge once their use is reported to us. The ongoing program has conducted dozens of trainings with nearly 1,000 attendees, which directly resulted in 32 lives saved.

In July 2016, DWMHA distributed Deterra Drug Deactivation bags to providers and to the public. These bags provide a convenient, discreet, environmentally and socially responsible method for getting rid of unused, unwanted or expired prescription pills, liquids and patches.

This year DWMHA increased screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment in federally qualified health centers, school-based health centers and hospital emergency rooms so individuals who may need treatment can be detected earlier. Once detected, those individuals can participate in the various programs, including the new Vivitrol pilot program, launched at eight medication assisted treatment providers. Vivitrol is the once-a-month medication used with counseling to address those with an opioid addiction as well as alcohol dependence.

In another partnership, DWMHA is purchasing approximately 20 permanent prescription take back boxes to be placed in all Detroit Police precincts, Inkster Police station and other police stations in Wayne County.

From mobilizing the community and increasing awareness to equipping responders and enhancing supports and services, our mental health authority is ever vigilant in response to the crises that has shaken the country.

Carmen McIntyre is chief medical director of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

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