Editorial: State, feds rightly tackle opioid abuse

The Detroit News

Opioid addiction has become such a serious problem that it can only be remedied through effective and coordinated measures. That’s why we are pleased to see the joint efforts at both the state and federal level in recent weeks to combat this crisis.

"Opioid addiction is a serious problem that will only be solved through effective and coordinated measures at both the state and federal level."

President Donald Trump signed the “Support for Patients and Communities Act” on Oct. 24, which promises $8.5 billion this year for opioid-related programs.

The next day, a Michigan executive directive signed by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley established new rules that require health professionals and facilities to report overdoses and deaths within five days of a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services request.

“As we step up intervention efforts, we have to have data to know it is working,” Calley says. “The more information we can have, the more we can target prevention and recovery.”

Recovery is particularly important to Calley, who made the decision to have a standing order of Naloxone included as part of the directive. The order makes this drug more available to Michigan residents who need it on hand as they recover.

Calley says that many overdoses occur when addicts are in recovery. If they relapse, they often try to use the dose they had been using, which can overwhelm their system.

Naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioids, poses no abuse threat and can bring addicts back after a relapse and help them stay on a path toward recovery.

Overdose deaths killed an estimated 72,000 Americans in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In comparison, over 40,000 Americans died that same year in car accidents and 12,000 died from gun violence.

One of the first examples of this coordinated effort is the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ first Opioid Health Home which launched on Oct. 1. It will serve the Medicaid beneficiaries of the Lower Peninsula’s 21 most northern counties. The health home coordinates health and social services to provide comprehensive coverage for recovering addicts, and the federal government will provide a 90-percent fund match for each state dollar spent on the project.

Calley says one of the most important measures at the federal level are the improvements made to package screening for fentanyl at border checks. Many overdoses are the result of opioid addicts using fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine, which drug producers often lace into heroin to increase the strength of each dose. Preventing access to the drug can help ensure overdose rates drop dramatically.

Congress has not guaranteed funding of opioid programs for subsequent years, which worries some legislators.

Though the Michigan Constitution prohibits monetary commitments for future legislatures, Calley says he thinks the Prescription Drug and Opioid Task Force has made “a great road map” and that its results will likely guarantee future funding.

Though the current administration is on its way out, Calley says working to ensure that the task force’s report and recommendations are made a priority by the next administration is at the top of his to-do list.

Efforts like these are what is needed to start making a dent in battling the opioid epidemic.