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Community Wellness: 25 recommendations to curb opioid epidemic

Community Wellness: 25 recommendations to curb opioid epidemic

October 30, 2015

By Robert Lathers LMSW CEO, Ionia County Community Mental Health – The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness

Posted Oct. 30, 2015 at 10:56 PM

Ionia County, Mich.

I have had the honor of serving on the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force as one of the members, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in June, to study this public health epidemic and to develop a statewide action plan for the state. My colleagues included representatives from the Executive Office, the state Legislature, state departments, law enforcement, prosecutors’ offices and mental health commissions, as well as pharmacists, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies.

Opioids are highly addictive drugs, and opioid dependence affects millions of people in the United States and thousands in our state. Michigan is 10th in the nation in per capita prescription rates of opioid pain relievers, and 18th in the nation for all overdose deaths. Opioids prescribed to control pain – such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Percodan and Demerol – can lead to the use of heroin and other dangerous and illegal substances. The human, legal and economic cost is being felt in every community, large and small, urban and rural, rich and poor.

To learn all we could about the epidemic of prescription drug and opioid abuse in Michigan and across the U.S., the task force held a public hearing and utilized subcommittees, chaired by Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, to collect and analyze input from families, persons in recovery and other experts.

Earlier this week, the task force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, presented its findings to Gov. Snyder. Included in the findings were 25 primary recommendations and seven contingent recommendations related to prevention, treatment, regulation, policy and outcomes, and enforcement.

The full report is available at Highlights include: Updating or replacing the Michigan Automated Prescription System, requiring registration and use of MAPS by those who are prescribing and dispensing prescription drugs, updating regulations on the licensing of pain clinics, which hasn’t been done since 1978, increasing licensing sanctions for health professionals who violate proper prescribing and dispensing practices, providing easier access to Naloxone, a drug that reduces the effects of an opioid overdose, limiting criminal penalties for low-level offenses for those who seek medical assistance with an overdose, increasing access to care through wraparound services and Medication Assisted Treatment programs, requiring additional training for professionals who prescribe controlled substances, reviewing successful drug takeback programs for possible replication and expansion, increasing the number of addiction specialists practicing in Michigan, reviewing programs to eliminate doctor and pharmacy shopping and requiring a bona-fide doctor-patient relationship for prescribing controlled substances, creating a public awareness campaign about the dangers of prescription drug use and abuse and how people can get help for themselves or family members, increasing training for law enforcement in recognizing and dealing with addiction for those officers who do not deal directly with narcotics regularly, considering pilot programs for the development of testing to reduce the increasing incidence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which leads to severe withdrawal symptoms for babies born to mothers who have been using opioids.

While these goals are ambitious, the real challenge will be to address them locally. The next steps for our community will be to hold a public community forum, involving local agencies, law enforcement, schools and families aimed at developing a community action plan. Initial planning has begun and this forum will be held in early 2016. More details will be coming soon.

Robert Lathers, LMSW, is the CEO of Ionia County Community Mental Health, soon to be “The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness.” His email address is He welcomes your comments and questions.