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Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week

Opioid and heroin addiction remains a serious public health problem in Michigan and across the United States. So much so, that President Barack Obama declared September 18-24 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, and called on Congress to allocate $1.1 billion to expand access to treatment services for individuals facing opioid and heroin addiction. In Michigan in particular, the State Court Administrator’s Office also recently announced a $50,000 grant to establish a new drug court in the 86th District Court, and statewide efforts are being made to break the continuing cycle of incarceration for drug addicts and get them into intensive treatment programs, in order to reduce recidivism.

Prosecution vs. Opioid Abuse Treatment

“We’re not really getting anywhere by incarcerating people – it’s just raising our (costs),” says Jeffrey O’Brien, Police Department Chief for Traverse City, Michigan. “How do we treat people, heal them, and provide them with support? That’s the problem everyone’s trying to look at right now. The Recovery Court has been very successful…so I think a drug court would be phenomenal.” O’Brien says treatment and education resources, such as those offered through a drug court, are one vital component of a two-prong approach to dealing with drug-related crimes in Michigan, which have traditionally been addressed through prosecution. “That’s the problem with the law enforcement end of this,” says O’Brien. “With enough time and money, you can push the problem out of your jurisdiction into the surrounding (area) and say it’s a success. But you haven’t solved the underlying issues. Education and treatment is the missing piece.”

Raising Awareness About Opioid Use Disorders

According to statistics released by the White House, “Each year, more Americans die from drug overdoses than in traffic accidents, and more than three out of five of these deaths involve an opioid.” Even more alarming, “Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl, has nearly quadrupled.” Unfortunately, many people who die from an opioid or heroin overdose never get the help they need, due to widespread misconceptions about opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders, which contribute to harmful addiction-related stigmas and prevent them from seeking quality, evidence-based treatment.

So, in order to better address the issue of drug addiction and drug-related crimes in Michigan and across the United States, there are several initiatives being considered on the federal, state and local level, including the proclamation of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week by President Barack Obama, which seeks to raise public awareness about opioid use disorders, recognizes the individuals who are currently in recovery, and remembers those who have died due to prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction. According to a press release issued by the White House, these new efforts to improve access to treatment for opioid use disorders would “expand overdose prevention strategies, and increase access to naloxone – the overdose reversal drug that first responders and community members are using to save lives.”

Seeking Treatment for Opioid and Heroin Addiction in Michigan

There have been local efforts to expand access to treatment for individuals struggling with opioid abuse disorders as well, helping more people get into treatment instead of jail. In Michigan, for example, new legislation has been proposed that will extend prosecution immunity to individuals seeking medical help for a drug overdose, as well as to individuals assisting another person who is overdosing. There are professional substance abuse treatment facilities in Michigan that specialize in treating heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse, and that can offer individuals the help they need to overcome their substance abuse disorder. This, in combination with efforts on the federal level, can significantly improve the chances of addicted individuals achieving long-term recovery from opioid abuse, and can, as the White House puts it, “begin to turn the tide of this epidemic.”

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