WEDNESDAY. Jan. 6 — State and local officials will announce tomorrow that they are scaling up a public response to the dramatic increase in heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. Representatives from state government, county health officials, law enforcement and political leaders will participate in the announcement.
“The work group wants to build awareness of this problem,” said Linda Vail, Ingham County’s Health Officer. “Too many people are affected. We want people to know how to get help. We also want to prevent addictions from forming. We are trying to reach parents. We want them to know the danger of unsecured and unaccounted for prescription painkillers in the home. The household medicine cabinet is a point of entry to opioid addiction for too many teens and young adults.”
Vail will be joined by Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski; Mason Police Chief John Stressman; Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero; Sara Lurie from the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties; Phil Pavona, president of Families Against Narcotics in Okemos; State Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, who recently served on the state’s prescription drug abuse task force; and Judge Donald Allen of the 55th District Court.
In a press release from the Ingham County Health Department, Vail noted that nationally between 2001-2014, heroin overdose deaths had increased six fold, while deaths from prescription opioid abuse tripled. Locally, the numbers are just as stark. In 2014, there were 66 opioid-related deaths in the county. Between January and October 2015, there were 54 such deaths.
The severity of the problem is indicated by the response from emergency workers as well, Vail said.
“Some of the most telling local data we’ve seen is regarding the administration of Narcan by EMS,” she said. “Narcan (Naloxone) is a life-saving medicine that can halt an overdose. In the first six months of 2014, EMS administered the drug 68 times. In the first six months of 2015, they administered the drug 132 times. It doubled. The numbers for the whole of 2015 are not any more encouraging. We do not have final numbers, but through mid-December, EMS administered Narcan 283 times.”
Vail said that heroin is definitely the larger problem in the community.
“Heroin is the number one opioid-related cause of death in the county,” she said.
The group holding the press conference has dubbed itself the Opioid Working Group for the county. It was formed when local officials realized health laws prevented them from getting a clear picture of what was happening with heroin and opioid related deaths. Using the state’s health laws, county health officials have been able to collect and share data related to such deaths over the last year.
“We have national data and statewide data that attest to a sharp increase in opioid-related deaths, but we lacked a countywide picture,” Vail said. “The work group’s initial data sharing and work to gauge the problem is still evolving, but there is consensus among the group that opioid addiction is at a crisis level in our community.”