Prescription drug and opioid abuse in Michigan has reached epidemic levels. This June, I participated as member of the Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force to investigate the rise in abuse and to develop a plan to combat this growing problem.
The Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force included law enforcement officials, community health professionals, state legislators, pharmacists and medical doctors. The goal was to study the available information regarding prescription drug abuse, examine trends, evaluate current law and study available options for improvement.
The task force recently completed its work and divided its findings into the categories of prevention, treatment, regulation, policy and outcomes and enforcement. There were over two-dozen recommendations that would improve regulations and practices across these five categories.
One of the key areas of focus was prevention and educating medical professionals about opioid abuse. The task force determined that medical professionals would greatly benefit from additional education regarding pain management, as well as addiction. While these drugs play an important role in the care of many patients, medical professionals would greatly benefit from additional tools and skills to recognize those who abuse them.
Limiting the supply of unused medications will also play a large role in preventing abuse. Prescription drugs are the most likely drug to be abused by teens. Encouraging the use of drop-off bins and effective take-back programs will help keep unused prescriptions out of reach for teens and off of our streets.
The task force recognized the addiction to prescription drug and opioids becomes a medical condition overtime. Thus, the task force recommended that courts use diversion for treatment instead of incarceration for offenders suffering from addiction. I am proudly working on this issue to make the option of treatment available to those who will greatly benefit from it.
Additionally, the task force looked at ways to prevent overdose deaths across the state. The number of overdose deaths in Michigan has nearly quadrupled since 1999. Thankfully, a lifesaving drug, Naloxone, can be used in the event of an opioid overdose. This drug can easily be administered, similar to an Epi-Pen, to reverse the effects of the opioid. Emergency medical attention is still needed following its use.
Last year, I introduced legislation – now law – that allows family members of an individual who is at risk of an overdose and emergency personnel to carry and administer Naloxone. The task force determined that this legislative initiative was successful and recommended that pharmacists be able to dispense Naloxone in order to make it widely accessible.
It was also determined that a permanent task force or commission, responsible for working with law enforcement and other stakeholders to monitor trends and regulations, be formed. Keeping a close watch on the statistics and increasing enforcement and regulations when necessary will keep our system modern and optimize effectiveness.
Prescription drug abuse is quickly becoming an epidemic. The Legislature, law enforcement and the medical community must work together to put thoughtful regulations in place that successfully curb the problem we are facing, while also recognizing the legitimate needs of patients who require pain medication.
While we have made some important reforms to help save lives, there is much work left to be done.
For additional information, or a complete list of the recommendations, please visit www.Michigan.gov/snyder and search “Opioid Taskforce.”