Opinion: Fighting back against Michigan's opioid crisis

Gretchen Whitmer and Michael Bloomberg
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Opioid overdose strikes without prejudice. We’ve both seen this firsthand. From Detroit to Grand Rapids, Staten Island to the Bronx, the epidemic isn’t just at our doorsteps — it’s inside our homes. It’s taking our loved ones at a higher rate than gun violence and car crashes, and it’s ravaging families and communities across our country.

An American dies from an opioid overdose every 11 minutes. This is a public health crisis — and a full-blown national emergency. We need a response bold enough to stop it.

In the last two years, we’ve heard a lot of talk from the White House, but we haven’t seen a lot of action. The bill recently passed in Congress and signed by the president offers piecemeal solutions to a crisis whose scope calls for a comprehensive, system-disrupting plan. It provides neither an adequate level of funding, nor the full breadth of essential services that our hardest-hit communities need in order to fight addiction and save lives.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Together, we will continue pushing the federal government to lead. But we’re not going to wait for them to act. We can’t afford to – and we don’t have to.

State governments have already been out front on this issue in ways the federal government hasn’t – coming up with real, practical solutions and passing legislation that helps people addicted to opioids, and helps prevent addiction in the first place. But states need more support.

In November, Bloomberg Philanthropies unveiled a $50 million plan to provide resources and expertise to help the states hit hardest by opioid overdose deaths develop and implement comprehensive public health strategies. Pennsylvania was selected as the first of two states. As of today, Michigan will be the second.

Our immediate goal is to save the lives of as many Michigan residents as we can. And if we succeed, our work will help create a blueprint for the nation on how to end this crisis once and for all.

Here in Michigan – where overdose deaths increased 14 percent from 2016 to 2017 alone – an important first step will be to raise awareness about the scope of the epidemic and the dangers opioids pose. Breaking down the stigma of addiction is essential to making sure people get the help they need.

We will also ensure that treatment is readily available when people need it. That means expanding access to life-saving drugs, like Naloxone, for those who overdose, as well as improving medication-assisted long-term treatment options.

Michigan needs to – and will – invest in better opioid addiction recovery systems by working with hospitals and community centers across the state where the opioid epidemic is hitting hardest. We will identify key places where recovering Michiganians can get access to valuable resources, like mental health treatment and counseling, mentoring, job training programs, and access to addiction treatment networks.

At the same time, we need to root out the systemic problems that allowed opioid misuse to infect our society in the first place. In 2016, Michigan had more annual opioid prescriptions than people – enough for every citizen to have 84 opioid pills of their own.

We must put an end to the over-prescribing that led to this crisis. That means holding drug companies accountable, cracking down on “doctor shopping,” and upgrading our data and monitoring systems to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will also place experts in the field and provide resources to address the most promising solutions. This will have the immediate benefit of adding valuable experience to existing teams on the front lines, helping them reach more people, and save more lives.

We’re clear-eyed about the scope of this challenge. We know that foundations and states cannot end the opioid epidemic on their own. And there are other fundamental issues, such as the importation of fentanyl into our country, that are necessary to address but impossible to combat without stronger federal action.

But we aren’t waiting. The stakes are too high. As more and more families are being torn apart by this epidemic every day, and as more and more promising lives are at risk, we must do more. We have no time to waste.

Gretchen Whitmer is governor of Michigan.

Michael Bloomberg is former mayor of New York City.