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Southeast Michigan's use of peer sobriety coaches and collaboration to fight the opioid crisis could become a model for the country, said an official from the U.S. Health and Human Services in Livonia on Monday.

Leaders from social services, health care, law enforcement, local courts and nonprofits met for a roundtable discussion with HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia as part of a national listening tour by federal health officials focused on the epidemic.

"We've seen three years in a row a lowering American life expectancy, and that is due to the amount of deaths are are occurring because of the opioid epidemic. This is unprecedented in U.S. history," Hargan said at a news conference following the closed-door roundtable. "This is something that has permeated society in a very broad way, in rural communities ... to areas like Detroit, to suburban areas — everywhere at this point.

"We really do have to have a national approach to this, which is why we're trying to absorb as many lessons as we can — from as many places as we can — of what works, so that we can bring those processes to other areas where it's needed."

Preliminary data show Michigan had 2,729 fatal overdoses in 2017, including 1,941 people who died from opioids. The number of opioid deaths grew by 8.7 percent last year, from 1,786 reported in 2016. The percentage of increase is slowing, state officials say. 

Hargan said Metro Detroit stands out for it's use of peer sobriety coaches, people who have recovered from addiction and can offer support to others who are addicted.

CARE of Southeastern Michigan, a recovery nonprofit that serves primarily Macomb and Wayne counties, has peer recovery coaches on site in four area hospitals and at three local drug courts.

Hargan noted that Growth Works, a southeast Michigan nonprofit, offers training and certification for recovery coaches across the region. 

"Growth Works is a program that has a lot of rigor to it, in terms of approaches to peer support in this area," Hargan said. "I think that's an area we're going to be hearing a lot more about, in terms of how that's done here."

Metro Detroit also stands out for the level of collaboration among the scores of agencies that are working to curb opioid deaths, he said. 

Collaboration has been fostered by the Greater Detroit Area Health Council, which hosted Monday's roundtable. Three years ago, the council formed the Southeast Michigan Alliance for Addiction Free Communities to unify the region's response.

"The opioid crisis is something that's obviously very dear to all of us. It's something that's very serious," said Kate Kohn-Parrott, president and CEO.  "We bring together all the partners in this space in Southeast Michigan, not just Detroit, not just Wayne County, but Oakland County and Macomb County, as well.

"We want to focus on process, policy and education, and provide the tools so that everybody across this space understands (what resources are) available." 

Hargan said many communities are "not as far along" as Metro Detroit when it comes to a coordinated response to the crisis.

"To everyone's credit, in this area, there has been a greater recognition that people have to cut across the different silos. It's not just health and human services, it's everyone in law enforcement.

"That you actually have a collaborative in Southeast Michigan that can act on the ground, that's already set up to act on the ground, is something we're going to want to look at, because it's not (happening in) every community."

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

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