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Lansing — Michigan set a new record for overdose deaths last year, the state reported Thursday, but the rate of growth in the opioid-related death epidemic is slowing.

Preliminary data showed 1,941 of the 2,729 overdose deaths in 2017 were opioid-related, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It represented an 8.7 percent increase from the 1,786 opioid-related deaths in 2016, which was a slower growth rate than last year's 35 percent jump in opioid-related overdose deaths from the 1,320 deaths in 2015.

Experts credited efforts from drug courts to sober coaches and distribution of the rescue drug Narcan for slowing the rise of drug deaths. but said the epidemic is far from over.

"I think we are slowly starting to see change taking place, (but) I think going to continue to see a rise in the death rate over the next couple of years at least — I predict up to four to five years even," said Macomb County 41B District Court Judge Linda Davis, who founded of the Clinton Township drug recovery court and is president of Families Against Narcotics.

"We have thousands of people who are addicted to these opiate pain medications and/or heroin ... and because of (the) lack of treatment and how insidious this disease (of addiction) is, there's a large number of those people who are going to die unfortunately."

Part of the increase in overdose deaths in 2017 results from a new definition that the state has adopted that corresponds to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyses and is more comprehensive in detecting opioid deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The state now includes deaths attributed to opium and unspecified narcotics, which were not previously included in Michigan data. There is also more vigilance among medical examiners and others to look for opioid-related deaths and note them on death certificates, said Lynn Sutfin, a state health department spokeswoman.

“The opioid epidemic continues to be a national emergency that is impacting every corner of our state and unfortunately overdose deaths have continued to rise,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said. “While we have made progress, we must take our efforts to the next level in both preventing addiction and making sure treatment is available for those suffering so that we can have more second chances and fewer funerals.”

It will take time, education, and everyone doing their part to reverse the numbers, said Davis, who was appointed chair of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission. They can start by ridding their homes of their pills, she added.

"If you ever looked at the statistics of how many people are still hoarding opiates, even in light of all the information that's out there, it's ridiculous," Davis said.  "There are so many things that could be helping with this massive addiction issue, but people just won't listen." 

Davis added that many lives have been saved by the opioid anti-dote Narcan, which is now carried by many first responders across the state. 

Michigan issued a standing order in May 2017 to pre-approve pharmacists so they could distribute naloxone — a fast-acting, potentially life-saving medication that reverses an opioid overdose — to those at risk of an opioid-related overdose. The order also covered family members, friends and others who might help a person at risk of overdose. 

More than 60 percent of Michigan pharmacies have registered to dispense naloxone since the state order and dispensed 10,328 orders of naloxone, according to the state health department. About a third or 3,374 orders resulted from the state directive and the rest or 6,954 through prescriptions from physicians, according to the state.

Thom Duddy, vice president corporate communications for Adapt Pharma, the manufacturer of Narcan Nasal Spray, was in Detroit Tuesday to help launch a national campaign to educate the public about the antidote. Narcan can only reverse the effects of opioids such as hydrocone, Oxycontin or heroin; it will not reverse the effects of cocaine or other non-opioid drugs.  

"About a third of overdoses that happen are with prescriptions (opioids) and about 40 percent are witnessed by someone," Duddy said.

According to Duddy, consumers with insurance or Medicaid coverage pay an average co-pay of about $10 for a two-dose package of Narcan. The cash price for people without insurance is about $125 to $150 for the two-dose pack. Only about 3 percent of Narcan prescriptions are purchased by people without insurance, he added. And some large retail pharmacy chains offered a discounted price for the uninsured. 

"A lot of people would say 'That's a waste of money, those people will go back out and use,'" said Davis, the Macomb County judge. "But I've had people in may court that were Narcan-ed three times who now are 18 months sober.

"We can't play God with these people. We have to realize that recovery is possible for everybody and we give people second chances.  We don't tell people that eat pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving that we're not going to give you insulin anymore ... but we do that with addiction all the time." 

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

The coaches work 12 hours per day, seven days per week at McLaren Macomb, St. John Macomb, Henry Ford Macomb and Ascension St. John hospitals, providing assistance and treatment referrals to addicted patients.  

"We're there for anybody that comes into the emergency room that's experienced an overdose, that's had a history of (medication) seeking, a history of substance use disorder, any of these concerns," said Monique Stanton, president and CEO of CARE of Southeastern Michigan. "If they're in need of treatment and willing to go to treatment we will work with them to get them connected to treatment services.

"We had one person who was a frequent flyer, coming in an out of the emergency room about six different times...but we worked with them, got them connected to treatment, and that person is now transitioned into our community-based peer recovery coach program," she added.

"What we're really about is helping identify when there's a problem and them getting them connected and supporting them through these services." 

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

 

Michigan's opioid overdose deaths

Which counties had the highest number of opioid-related drug overdoses in 2017: 

Wayne      573

Macomb  285

Genesse   152

Kent          104

Ingham       64

Washtenaw 61

Oakland      47

St. Clair       47

Calhoun      46

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

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