By Kathryn Millán, MA, LPC/MHSP

The opioid crisis in America has become a regular topic in national news. Every day, more than 115 people die of an opioid overdose in the United States, and this crisis costs the US over $78 billion each year.1

A close look at the data shows what many Michigan residents have already seen firsthand. Many people have personal stories of struggle or loss with either prescription painkillers or heroin, and the numbers back up those experiences.

A glimpse into some of the latest Michigan data reveals that:

  • More than 11 million opioid prescriptions were filled in Michigan in 2016. That’s enough for every Michigan resident to have their very own prescription.2
  • In 2015, 1,275 Michigan residents died from opioid misuse. That breaks down to 391 heroin overdoses and 884 prescription opioid overdoses.3 More residents died from opioid overdoses in 2015 than either traffic accidents or gunshot wounds.2
  • Michigan saw a 21 percent increase in hospitalizations due to opioid use between 2009 and 2015. Opioids appear to be the fastest-growing issue in Michigan, as deaths caused by or related to the use of other drugs have not increased the way opioid-related deaths have.2
  • In that same time period, from 2009-2015, Michigan saw a 41 percent increase in narcotic painkiller prescriptions. By 2015, enough opioid medications had been prescribed to Michigan residents to add up to 84 single opioid doses for every person in Michigan (including children).2
  • At last estimate, Michigan suffers from the 15th highest drug overdose death rate in the United States. As many as 20 out of every 100,000 people in the state die of a drug overdose each year.2
  • But not all statistics are quite so ominous. Over 1,500 pharmacies (and growing) are now able to offer naloxone to customers. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that can help prevent death during an opioid overdose. Efforts are underway to dramatically increase the availability of naloxone to the general public.3

Who Is Affected by the Michigan Opioid Crisis?

Great Lakes mapMany people who become dependent on opioids begin using these drugs through the prescription of a well-meaning doctor. Opioids are often prescribed for chronic pain, serious injury, recovery from surgery and chronic illnesses, such as cancer. These prescriptions don’t discriminate and are given to people of all ages, backgrounds, gender identities and health levels. Some people may be surprised to learn how often this issue impacts older adults, loving parents and grandparents, hard-working professionals, young athletes and everyone in between.

While doctors are becoming more conscious of their prescribing habits, many remain unaware of alternatives to opioid treatment. Physicians may assume their patients won’t be susceptible to opioid dependence or will seek help immediately if they see signs of dependence. Unfortunately, opioid dependence can affect anyone, and the signs of trouble are not always readily apparent. In some cases, people who experience chronic pain are aware they’re becoming dependent on these drugs but don’t know any other way to manage the pain, so they continue using.

“I grew up in a small country setting and started using opiates after an oral surgery. Shortly after I started using opiates, I fell and hurt my hip and got another prescription for hydrocodone. When my prescription was finished, I kept going back for refills. I was 36 years old at that time, and had never had a problem with drugs or alcohol before that. I realized that I had a problem as soon as I tried to stop taking the pain medication.”

– Erin J. (Read Erin’s story and more at www.HeroesInRecovery.com)

In other cases, people use these drugs recreationally. Perhaps they begin in an effort to numb pain, to fit in or to treat an injury by borrowing pills from a friend. No one intends to become addicted, but opioids are both physically and psychologically addictive and can take hold very quickly. Sometimes, this dependence leads to the use of illegal opioids, like heroin. It’s important to know there is no “safe” opioid.

Michigan’s Response to Opioid Addiction

Many local efforts to heal Michigan’s opioid crisis trickle down from bigger, national initiatives created to fix the issue. The US Department of Health and Human Services has announced that they will focus on five main priorities, including:

  • Contributing to the advancement of pain treatment and management techniques for all people
  • Improving access to naloxone and other overdose treatment drugs
  • Improved access to addiction treatment and recovery programs
  • Better public health education initiatives and community awareness
  • Greater research and assessment of the issue at hand1

Recently, bills were signed in Michigan that will require doctors to enter all opioid prescriptions into an online state database, establish a dedicated doctor-patient relationship with each patient who receives opioids and limit the number of pills that may be prescribed.3

What Can You Do About Opioid Addiction?

The first step to helping the problem is to gain as much knowledge as you can. The more informed you are about opioids and other dangerous drugs, the better able you’ll be to share information and assistance. It’s worthwhile to learn all you can about opioid treatment and recovery in order to be prepared to help yourself or someone you know.

Get involved locally. Opioid crisis response begins on a local level. Attend meetings with your state and city officials, and participate in community discussions when possible. Write to your representatives, and encourage them to keep this issue a top priority. Register to vote, and research your election candidates. Your voice can help initiate change on a larger scale.

Seek treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid use, seek help immediately. Opioid addiction will not go away without comprehensive, supportive help. Experienced, dedicated recovery professionals are available to help you through the toughest points of recovery so you can live a healthier, more comfortable life than you ever imagined.

The history of the opioid epidemic shows us how the U.S. got to where we are today with opioids and drug use.


Sources

1Opioid Overdose Crisis.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, March 2018.

2 Zimmerman, Brian. “Michigan physicians wrote 11M opioid prescriptions in 2016: 5 things to know.” Becker’s Hospital Review, June 27, 2017.

3 Gerstein, Michael. “Michigan Steps Up Fight Against Opioid Addiction.” The Detroit News, December 27, 2017.