Opioid effects become focus at WSU town hall
A man and woman found slumped in Ohio, just a few feet away from a 4-year-old, high on drugs. A mother sprawled on a store floor in Massachusetts, unable to respond to her daughter’s cries. And in Detroit, two people filmed unconscious in a car — a syringe still hanging from someone’s leg.
The video clips shown Wednesday during a town hall at Wayne State University powerfully illustrated the impact of a drug and opioid prescription epidemic that authorities in Michigan and across the country say are hiking the number of overdose deaths.
The fatalities in Metro Detroit in recent years also underscore the need for communities and law enforcement to address the problem, say experts and professionals in the field. Michigan ranked 10th nationwide in 2015 in overdose death rates
“This shows that things are changing and we have to respond,” said Cynthia Arfken, a Wayne State University professor and epidemiologist.
The causes, effects and responses to the epidemic anchored the forum hosted by the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. State, federal and local professionals explored its origins as well as offered the community tips on resources.
The event follows 52,404 overdose deaths across the United States in 2015, the latest data available from the federal Centers for Disease Control. Drug-related deaths climbed to nearly 2,000 in Michigan then, up about 500 two years earlier.
The state House on Tuesday approved a six-bill package meant to fight opioid and prescription drug addiction. The federal government in April also announced grants of nearly half a billion dollars for prevention and treatment programs to confront the opioid epidemic. Michigan is slated to receive nearly $16.4 million.
And in May, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation into law that makes a narcotic overdose antidote available at pharmacies.
Panelists who spoke Wednesday night before a crowd of about 100 people linked the epidemic to several causes.
After years of operation overseas, heroin production expansion to Mexico “makes it much more readily available for our market in the United States — and unfortunately cheaper,” said Daniel Lemisch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan. He also noted a proliferation of illegitimate prescriptions.
“The heart of the problem is crooked doctors who are basically drug dealers with a lab coat ... pushing opioids into our community with devastating results.”
That coincided with noticeable upticks in drug-related deaths in Michigan, Arfken said. In Wayne County last year, the Medical Examiner’s Office reported that such deaths jumped 56 percent, with fentanyl, a pain medication, accounting for roughly half of those fatalities.
The problem is reflected in the number of people seeking treatment or services through groups such as the Self-Help Addiction Rehabilitation Inc.
“This is a very lucrative illegal enterprise for a lot of people,” said David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office.
The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is distributing more drug antidote kits to first responders, who are carrying Narcan on their runs, and at the Detroit Police Department, “we are in the first stages of giving it to our officers” for help at scenes, Assistant Chief Arnold Williams said.
“Arresting is not going to solve the problem,” Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Sarah DeYoung said.
The session informed attendees such as Linda Holmes of Detroit, who was seeking resources to help her son deal with a heroin addiction. “They’re trying to do something” about the epidemic, she said. “It’s a good thing.”