An Oakland County health officer shares what the opioid epidemic looks like in our community and how to combat it.
By Stephanie Steinberg
The opioid epidemic is an issue nationwide, and Metro Detroit is no exception.
In Oakland County, 47 residents died from an opioid-related overdose in 2017, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Statewide there were more than 1,700 opioid-related deaths in 2016. That’s up from 99 deaths caused by opioids in Michigan in 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
SEEN talked to Leigh-Anne Stafford, a health officer of the Oakland County Health Division, about the state of the opioid epidemic in Metro Detroit and what you can do if you suspect a friend or family member needs help.
What is the opioid epidemic?
The opioid epidemic refers to the sharp rise in opioid abuse and opioid-related overdose deaths from 1999 to present. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid-related overdose. Drug overdose and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase everywhere, including Oakland County.
Are there certain opioids that are more dangerous than others?
While all types of opioids have the potential for misuse, current statistics show higher overdose rates in cases where fentanyl and carfentanyl were involved. Fentanyl and carfentanyl are highly potent opioids and are sometimes mixed with other opioids, making it difficult to predict overall potency.
Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, more than any previous year on record. The Department of Health and Human Services reports about 40 percent of those deaths involved a prescription opioid. Why such a high number from prescription opioids?
Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. During this time, prescription opioid overdose deaths increased similarly. Most people who misuse or abuse prescription opioids get them from a friend or relative’s home as prescription opioids are often prescribed for both acute and chronic pain. Easy access to these prescription opioids is a driving factor in the increase of opioid overdose deaths.
How quickly can someone become addicted to opioids?
Opioid addiction depends on several biological and psychological factors. There is not enough scientific evidence available to determine how quickly someone can become dependent on opioids.
Are there high-risk demographics?
According to opioid-related death statistics, men, non-Hispanic whites, and those between 25 and 44 years of age are most at risk of death from opioid-related overdoses. That said, no demographic is immune to opioid misuse or abuse.
Michigan has the Michigan Automated Prescription System, known as MAPS. Can you explain what this is and how it’s tracking opioid use?
MAPS is Michigan’s prescription monitoring program. MAPS is used to track controlled substances, schedules 2-5 drugs. It is a tool used by prescribers and dispensers to assess patient risk and is also used to prevent drug abuse and diversion at the prescriber, pharmacy and patient levels. By identifying patients possibly misusing medication, prescribers can prevent prescription drug misuse and refer the patient to recovery resources.
In 2016, over 743,000 opioid prescriptions were filled in Oakland County, according to MAPS. Are there alternatives patients can ask their doctors for instead of prescribing opioids?
There are numerous alternatives available for patients working with their medical provider to consider, such as massage, exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture and relaxation training. Patients should work with their medical provider to find the safest and most effective pain management plan for them. On behalf of the Oakland County Prescription Partnership, we have piloted a map of complementary and alternative health resources found on our Access Oakland Opioid Data Portal. We encourage people to share alternative resources that have helped them in their recovery by sharing that information on the map.
Narcan is a spray that can revive someone who has overdosed. Are first responders using these here in Metro Detroit?
Yes, all first responders in Oakland County are equipped with Naloxone, also known as Narcan, in the event of a suspected overdose. Oakland Community Health Network has a standing order to provide Naloxone free of charge to law enforcement agencies in Oakland County. The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthier Communities and Bryan’s HOPE also host regular Narcan trainings for community members.
Our community has unfortunately seen opioid overdoses in teens. Compared to adults, are opioids more harmful for their bodies?
Like any drug, opioids can have harmful effects on the developing brain by damaging connections within the brain and creating problems with memory.
Are there signs parents should look out for?
Parents should look out for warning signs of opioid misuse including:
- Missing medications from family members
- Dramatic changes in appearance
- Dramatic changes in behavior
- Mixing with different groups of people or changing friends
- Excessive over-the-counter medicine use
- Abrupt mood swings
- Always looking for money
- Missing valuables
What can parents do if they suspect their child is abusing opioids?
If a parent suspects their child is misusing opioids, they can:
- Talk to their children about the negative health effects of drugs
- Get to know their children’s friends
- Supervise their children’s activities
- Monitor where their children spend time and their surroundings
- Monitor prescription medication in the home
- Lock up medications
- Properly dispose of unused and expired medications
- Find a physician or other health professional who can help
For those addicted to opioids, what does the recovery process look like?
Recovery looks different for everyone. Numerous treatments options to address opioid dependence are available and can include residential-based services, outpatient services, medication-assisted treatment, withdrawal management, case management, peer support services and support groups and activities. Those seeking treatment to address opioid dependence often begins with participating in a comprehensive evaluation to determine the extent of addiction as well as the existence of any co-occurring mental health or medical disorders that may be present and require attention. The individual actively participates in creating a plan for themselves that is tailored specifically to their needs.
If you suspect a loved one or friend is abusing opioids, what should you do?
If you suspect a loved one is misusing or abusing opioids, you can talk to them and encourage them to get help. Seek support from organizations like Families Against Narcotics and Nar-Anon, or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations.
Are there any resources here in Metro Detroit?
There are many organizations in Metro Detroit and Oakland County working toward combating opioid misuse every day. For publicly funded treatment services, contact Oakland Community Health Network Access Services at 248-464-6363.
The Oakland County Prescription Drug Abuse Partnership is a strong coalition of multidisciplinary members, including local physicians, pharmacists, substance abuse treatment and prevention agencies, court judges, law enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration, public health, academia and grassroots organizations. A complete list of those organizations and the resources they offer can be found at oakgov.com/prescriptiondrugs.