Michigan to give opioid antidote for free to community groups, residents

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services said Monday it will give naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, free to community groups and residents.

"Expanding naloxone access, especially for individuals at high risk of overdosing, is imperative and an integral part of Michigan’s response to the opioid crisis," the health department said in the announcement.

In 2015, Michigan law enforcement leaders pushed successfully for the right of police to carry naloxone during their patrols, as police are often the first to respond to an overdose scene.

Then, the drug was offered to the general public through pharmacists, and next through community groups working in the drug recovery space.

Now, both the community groups and the general public will have access to the drug, and without cost.

Michigan crossed the 1,000-mark for opioid deaths in 2014, when it had 1,041 fatal overdoses. It took just three years to cross the 2,000-mark in 2017, with 2,053 deaths.

But the nature of opioid overdoses has changed in the years since.

The state divides opioid deaths into three categories: prescription, heroin, and synthetics, such as fentanyl.

In 2014, heroin and prescription drugs were the main culprit, accounting for 520 and 432 deaths, respectively. Synthetic drugs accounted for only 17% of the death toll. 

But since that time Michigan has tightened access to prescription drugs.

Doctors and pharmacists use the Michigan Automated Prescription Service, or MAPS, the state's prescription drug monitoring system more regularly.

In 2018, Michigan doctors wrote 15% fewer opioid prescriptions than in 2017. State officials said that correlated with doctors' increased use of MAPS.

More:Opioid prescriptions in Michigan declined in 2018, state says

Emergency rooms dispense fewer pills to people suffering acute pain, routing people back to their doctors, or to find one. Doctors who over-prescribe have been prosecuted.

Over the years, opioid users have moved from the doctor's office to the street, numbers show.

In 2018, the last full year available, there were 2,036 opioid deaths, and synthetics  accounted for 1,556 of them, or 76%.

Michigan believes that widespread distribution of naloxone, which reverses overdoses on all three types of opioids, can help reduce the death toll, noting that "only 25% of individuals using opioids in southeast Michigan had access to naloxone."

Last year, the Associated Press reported that naloxone prescriptions dispensed by U.S. retail pharmacies doubled from 2017 to 2018, rising from 271,000 to 557,000. 

Now, Michiganians do not even need to contact a pharmacy to obtain naloxone.

"Getting naloxone into the hands of people who are most likely to be able to save a life is important," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, in the announcement.

Community groups can apply through an online portal. The definition of community group is broad: "any community organization statewide, including substance use treatment providers, non-profits, harm reduction organizations, jails, first responders, local governments and small businesses."

People who want to request naloxone individually can do that online, too, at naloxoneforall.org/mitypechoice.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer convened an opioid task force last August. In November, the group announced a goal of cutting Michigan's opioid death toll in half in five years.

More:Whitmer aims to cut opioid-related deaths 50%

Among its tactics: a $1 million media campaign to reduce the stigma associated with opioid addiction, which some experts argue is a barrier to people seeking help; allow easier access to naloxone; and expanded access to Medication-Assisted Treatment, a mix of therapy and anti-addiction drugs, for people leaving the state's jails and prisons. In 2018, 20% of MAT referrals in Michigan were for people involved in the justice system.

Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the health department, said the funding for the 66,000-plus kits available to community groups comes from the State Opioid Response grant, courtesy of the federal government. Sutfin said via email that Michigan has already given out 20,000 kits. 

The kits for individuals are mailed by NEXT Naloxone, and those are funded by Vital Strategies.

Vital Strategies in February announced a $10 million commitment to combat Michigan's opioid crisis. Increased access to naloxone was among its plans.


Twitter: @downi75