Opioid-related deaths on rise in Lansing

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Prescription Bottle with Pain Pills

Eric Norris / Creative Commoms

The Lansing community has seen a major spike in prescription opioid overdoses over the last decade.

Lansing officials are hoping a recent law signed by Gov. Rick Synder will help them address their prescription and opioid drug overdose problem, which the city has seen quadruple—from 15 deaths in 2005 to 68 deaths in 2015—in the past ten years.

Bar Graph showing the increase in drug overdoses between 2003-2015

The law protects a person of any age from criminal prosecution when reporting a possible prescription or opioid overdose, which is an extension of the good Samaritan law Snyder signed in 2015.

This year alone Ingham County has reported 43 opioid-related deaths, and that number does not include the most recent months of September and October. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail believes the end of the year total will similarly reflect the number of deaths reported by the county last year.

“This whole environment of behavioral health and substance abuse issues are starting to kind of be pushing the limits of capacity for a lot of different folks,” said Vail.

City officials in support of the law, including Vail, hope it will reduce the fear of anyone who is afraid to call in an overdose because of the assumed legal consequences and, in the end, save more lives.

“We do see situations where people do not want to necessarily call for assistance or seek out assistance for someone because of the fear of criminal penalty,” said Vail. “When you take that out of the mix then you are increasingly finding ways to address the issue.”

But the question remains, will this new law be enough to change the state of drug overdoses in Lansing?

While Vail, and others, agree that the law is beneficial, none of them believe it will be enough to fully address the broader issues of drug overdose and addiction in the community.

“I think the benefits are that it has raised awareness,”said Kathy Wahl, director of the division of EMS and trauma for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “I don’t really know how helpful it’s going to be, but anything is better than nothing.”

Vail agreed: “Hopefully we will save more lives,” she said. “[But] it does nothing to address the underlying issues which are causing this pattern of addiction, the magnitude of addiction, and the drugs we have in this country and this community right now.”

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