State responds

MARESA holds public forum in ‘Cost of Addiction’ series

Above, informational materials are available at a Wednesday forum that focused on the opioid epidemic in Michigan. The event took place at the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck) Below, the state of Michigan is undertaking initiatives to combat the opioid epidemic. The subject was part of a Wednesday forum at the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — It’s going to take a multi-faceted effort by the state of Michigan to deal with the opioid crisis.

“Michigan’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Response,” the fourth in a series of public forums on “The Cost of Addiction,” took place Wednesday at the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency.

Discussing this response with the group of local health and education professionals attending the forum were Jared Welehodsky, analyst in the policy division with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Larry Scott, acting director for the Office of Recovery Oriented Systems of Care with the MDHHS.

Both spoke about the opioid issue via a video conference.

Welehodsky discussed Gov. Rick Snyder’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force, which was formed in 2015. The topic in general, however, already is of great concern to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic, declared by the CDC, that drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of injury deaths,” Welehodsky said. “More of these overdose deaths come from pharmaceuticals than all other illicit drugs combined.”

Opioids, he explained, are painkillers whose examples include OxyContin and Vicodin, and use of that kind of pain medicine has had an impact on community health because often it has been misused.

Heroin, it should be noted, is another opioid whose usage has increased.

“Prescription opioid users often switch to heroin as it’s much cheaper than pain medicine on the black market,” Welehodsky said.

The state task force, he pointed out, focused on prevention/treatment outcomes and regulation, enforcement and policy.

The list of recommendations developed by the force include:

– Increasing drop-off bins for unused pills;

– a Medicaid lock-in program if there is evidence of pharmacy shopping or using more than one physician;

– increased access to naloxone, a lifesaving drug used to treat opioid overdoses; and

– a Good Samaritan law.

“Oftentimes people who are doing illegal drugs are hesitant to call law enforcement or emergency personnel while they’re using,” Welehodsky said of this legislation, which was signed into law in 2016. “They’re afraid of their own criminal-justice consequences for calling for an emergency.”

Such a law, he noted, decriminalizes drug-possession charges against an individual seeking help for someone and makes saving a life a top priority.

Action already has been taken regarding these recommendations.

Scott said drop-off bins have increased, and are available at Michigan State Police posts throughout the state, law-enforcement agencies and pharmacies.

Also, funding for about 5,800 naloxone kits to first responders has been provided, including information on where to access treatment, he said, and Medicaid has established a reimbursement policy on office-based opioid treatment services.

Welehodsky said that after the task force report was introduced, state agencies impacted by the recommendations met to discuss which ones would take ownership of of them.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley recently told The Associated Press that the Michigan Automated Prescription System had been successfully updated, allowing prescribers to see which Schedule 2-5 substances have been prescribed to patients.

On Friday, Calley announced the state has received more than $16 million in federal funds to help reduce opioid use and abuse across Michigan.

The funding was awarded to the MDHHS through the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grant, and will be used to promote prevention and increase access to treatment.

According to, from 1999 to 2014, Michigan saw a four-fold increase in unintentional fatal drug poisonings. The state also was ranked 10th in the nation in per capita prescribing rates of opioid pain relievers in 2012.

Welehodsky said that funding would total about $33 million over two years.

Scott said that money, which will applied statewide, will go quickly, so he suggested local agencies leverage collaborative initiatives to conduct a “comprehensive response” to the opioid crisis.

Also in the works are bills aimed to combat opioid and prescription abuse in Michigan, Welehodsky said. Those bills deal with issues like bona fide doctor-patient relationships and licensing of pain clinics.

Other proposed legislation involves a seven-day prescribing limit for opioids, a prescription drug education curriculum in schools and greater provider sanctions, among other actions.

He expects hearings on the bipartisan bills to begin soon.

“Hopefully we can pass some legislation that will address this issue,” Welehodsky said.

Greg Toutant, chief executive officer of the Great Lakes Recovery Centers, told Welehodsky and Scott that it’s important for local agencies to have a connection with the MDHHS.

“It does mean a lot to us,” Toutant said. “The recommendations that are shaped by the task force, and department efforts — the more we know and understand that, it shapes our local initiatives.”

The final program in “The Cost of Addiction” series is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 17 at the Peter White Public Library. The final installment will focus on treatment approaches and include a panel discussion and a question-and-answer period.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is