$16 million federal grant targets rural opioid addiction

By ISAAC CONSTANS
Capital News Service

LANSING — The state plans to use part of an incoming $16 million federal grant to help prevent and treat opioid addiction in underserved rural areas.

The money comes through the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016, which promised funds to all 50 states to fight the growing epidemic linked to prescription painkillers.

Michigan received the seventh-largest aid package. The state’s 1,980 opioid-related deaths in 2015 were also the seventh-highest mark in the country.

In addition to rural expansion of a program that offers medicine and other treatment to opioid addicts, known as Medication Assisted Treatment, University of Michigan opioid research funding will be enhanced. The state will also prioritize educating doctors on safe opioid prescription and addiction rehabilitation.

State officials said the grant will help them tackle the epidemic from all angles.

“We have to take a holistic approach to this and make sure that we are addressing as many potential factors as possible,” said Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2012, Michigan doctors prescribed the 10th most painkillers in the US. Lethal drug poisonings increased by 400 percent in the state from 1999 to 2015, according to the office of Gov. Rick Snyder.

“Doctors are better than they were five years ago, but there’s a long way to go,” said Rep. Joseph Bellion, R-Monroe, who recently proposed a bill designed to improve doctor-patient communication. “When they give a prescription, it’s not just abuse happening to the person who has the prescription. It could happen to anybody.”

Approximately 80 percent of the incoming grant will go toward services to help doctors and recovery programs, and the other 20 percent will target preventive measures.

An important consequence of the state initiative could be increased use of Naloxone, a “lifesaving” drug that blocks the effects of opioid misuse or overuse, said Cara Poland, an addiction specialist for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is readily available with a prescription at SpartanNash and Meijer pharmacies, but Poland would like to see its reach expand.

Part of the upcoming funding will go toward making Naloxone more widely available, by pumping more into the state and encouraging purchases.

“Even if you are not personally at risk of having an overdose, if you have the availability of that Naloxone and you are out at a festival and you see somebody who is unresponsive… you could save a life,” Poland said.

Poland said that only about 30 percent of opioid abuse recovery programs nationally actually use some form of medication, despite proof that such methods are effective. While the trend is catching on in Michigan, she said that a balanced approach is imperative for curing addiction.

“You cannot treat the disease of addiction without treating all aspects of a patient,” Poland said. “So the biological treatment is one component, but you also have to treat the psychosocial-spiritual needs of that individual.”

Michigan will provide doctors guidelines for training and practice in the standards of Medication Assisted Training, helping reach rural areas that were previously less familiar with the program.

The Michigan State Medical Society endorsed the governor’s opioid abuse agenda, which includes the distribution of Naloxone, increased implementation of Medication Assisted Treatment and a heavier reliance on drug courts.

Resources sent to physicians to help treat substance abuse disorders would be the most efficient allocation of funds, said Kevin McFatridge, director of marketing, communications and public relations for the medical society.

Helpful as it may be, $16 million will not solve the opioid epidemic in Michigan, experts agreed. Individuals can help to cut down risks themselves, however.

“This is something that’s impacting families statewide and nationwide, in rural and urban areas,” Eisner said. “It’s important that people are aware of the issue and know of the warning signs. It’s important that people properly dispose of prescription drugs.”

Poland said that misuse of prescription drugs can range from pilfering from a medicine cabinet to taking medication for a reason other than what was prescribed.

“The medical community needs to work with our community to minimize the amount of these medicines that are out there,” Poland said. “If your doctor is prescribing you an opiate, make sure you have that conversation with him about whether or not that is truly indicated. Can you use something else — like prescription-strength Motrin, Tylenol, other classes of medication — to address your pain other than opiates?”

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, April 29, and individuals can contribute to the opioid safety movement by returning expired and unneeded medications to some local public offices. More information can be found at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/.

Any day of the year, citizens can reach out to their health departments to find out disposal sites.