Michigan Develops Laws and Grants to Tackle Drug Abuse

The opioid crisis continues to make front page news all across the country. But the state of Michigan is taking steps to curb it on a local level.
For one thing, a new law will limit the amount of opioids that Michigan doctors can prescribe. Although 84.7% of drug law violations in 2016 were for possession of a controlled substance, lawmakers want to make it more difficult for patients to legally obtain larger supplies of opioid medications. Physicians here have already reduced the number of prescriptions for opioids that they write, evidenced by the 10.7% decline in Michigan opioid prescriptions between 2015 to 2017. On a national level, opioid prescriptions have declined by 22% between 2013 and 2017. But beginning July 1, Michigan doctors were prohibited from prescribing more than a seven-day opioid medication supply for acute (short-term) pain patients. Physicians are also barred from writing refills for these medications until the seven-day period is over.
The idea, of course, is that having access to fewer opioids will provide a lower risk of abuse and addiction. With any luck, experts hope, this could translate to fewer overdoses and fewer instances of other kinds of drug addiction; since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that almost 80% of Americans who use heroin say they misused prescription opioids first, this isn't a completely far-fetched idea.
According to Dr. Nabil Sibai of Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital, most acute patients won't require long-term opioid prescriptions, anyway. He told the Detroit Free Press that for "at least 90% of acute pain episodes, [patients] are only going to require three to seven days of opioids."
Of course, targeting acute pain patients won't put an end to opioid abuse. But Michigan is doing more than drafting legislation. A recent report found that in 2015, the state actually under-reported the number of opioid deaths due to incomplete death certificate data. A University of Pittsburgh study found an additional 216 should have been included in the count of 1,186 people who were reported to have died from accidental opioid overdoses that year. Because the medical examiners and other health officials failed to specify the type of drugs involved in these 200-plus fatalities, they were not counted in that final tally. Keeping those new numbers in mind, Michigan's unintentional opioid fatal overdose rates were actually the 13th highest in the entire country. The report adds that more than 70,000 accidental opioid overdose deaths may have been unreported on a national level between 1999 and 2015 for the same reasons.
The number of fatal drug overdoses hasn't improved in Michigan, either. Estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 2,749 people here died from drug overdoses between November 2016 and November 2017; it's likely that the majority of these deaths can be attributed to opioids. And while only 3% of patients who go to an urgent care center for treatment have to be diverted to the ER, many drug overdose victims may not ever receive any kind of treatment -- emergency or otherwise -- for their addictions.
That could change due to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service's recent contribution to Macomb County Community Mental Health. It was recently announced that the local organization will receive $1.3 million in grant funding, which will be used for substance abuse prevention and treatment initiatives such as overdose education, Naloxone distribution, medication-based treatments, peer recovery coaching programs, and more.
MMCMH's executive director, John Kinch, noted in a statement: "Macomb County is set to hit its sixth straight year of increasingly fatal drug overdoses. This funding will allow us to focus on specific aspects of substance abuse and hopefully make a real impact."
The initiatives will be implemented by six substance use disorder providers, while funding will be allocated through April 2019. Advocates and experts are optimistic that increased awareness and funding, coupled with new legislation, can finally make a dent in the number of fatal overdoses and encourage those struggling to get help before it's too late.

For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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