Fighting opioid epidemic

MDHHS offers loan repayment for providers that will offer, expand opioid treatment services

A doctor chats with a patient. (National Institues of Health Clinical Center photo)

MARQUETTE — In 2015, there were more prescriptions for painkillers in Michigan than there were people.

In that year, 11.4 million painkiller prescriptions were written in a state with a population of just under 10 million, equating to roughly 115 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2017, more people in Michigan died from drug overdoses in Michigan than car crashes, with 2,729 deaths from drug overdoses that year.

Of these roughly 2,700 deaths, over 1,900 were attribuable to an opioid overdose, according to the MDHHS.

In 2019, Michigan was ranked as the state with the second biggest drug problem in the nation in a study published by WalletHub that examined 22 metrics — such as arrest and overdose rates, as well as opioid prescriptions — to give states an overall score and rank.

With annual opioid overdose deaths increasing over tenfold since 2000, state officials have recognized the “opioid crisis is a public health epidemic” and taken a number of actions in past years to combat the issue, such as expanding access to treatment and rolling out tools to track opioid prescriptions, according to a proclamation from former Michigan Gov. Rick Synder.

Recently, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced a new program in an effort to expand the number of providers in Michigan who offer opioid addiction treatment.

The new Michigan Opioid Treatment Access Loan Repayment Program, which was implemented with a $500,000 grant received from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, makes health care providers who offer or expand opioid addiction treatment services eligible for medical education loan repayment through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The program aims to “increase availability of opioid use disorder treatment across the state, especially in areas where treatment is difficult to access,” according to the MDHHS.

“Michigan needs more health care providers that will treat patients suffering from opioid use disorders,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a press release. “This program provides critical educational debt repayments to incentivize providers to treat patients with substance use disorders in communities across the state. This will help strengthen our capacity to respond to this growing epidemic.”

It is available to medical doctors and osteopathic medicine doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and substance use disorder counselors “who begin offering opioid treatment or expand treatment that is already being offered,” according to the MDHHS. Providers who work in a variety of health care settings are eligible to apply.

The loan repayment program is part of a larger “state-government-wide plan to address the issue,” MDHHS officials said, as the state has developed a multi-faceted “action plan that is focused on prevention, early intervention and treatment.”

These actions include an update to the rules governing substance use disorder treatment to expand the types providers that can offer it; making a non-opioid directive available; the creation of the The Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force; a statewide opioid assessment; the Michigan Automated Prescription System, which providers real-time prescription data to providers; the Michigan State Police Angel Program and a statewide standing order to pre-authorize the distribution of Naloxone — a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose — to those who are at risk of an overdose, as well as those who may be able to assist a person at risk of overdose.

Since 2016, there has been an eight-fold increase in physicians and pharmacists checking patient prescription history using the Michigan Automated Prescription System. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a nearly three-fold increase between in physicians and pharmacists registered to use the system, according to the MDHHS.

While the number of opioid prescriptions in Michigan decreased to 74 prescriptions per 100 people in 2017 and the rate of overdose deaths involving opioid prescriptions declined slightly between 2016 and 2017, the overall number of opioid overdose deaths rose between 2015 and 2017, increasing from 1,320 to 1,941, according to the MDHHS and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.

With the continuing opioid epidemic, the MDHHS encourages providers who are interested in offering or expanding their opioid treatment care to apply for the Michigan Opioid Treatment Access Loan Repayment Program by June 30.

Applications and additional resources can be found at https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71551_2945_92784—,00.html

Call Megan Linton at 517-335-6713 for more information on the program.

For more information on the opioid epidemic in Michigan, as well as resources for the public and health care providers, visit https://www.michigan.gov/opioids

For a detailed list of providers by county, visit https://www.michigan.gov/opioids/0,9238,7-377-88140-151431–,00.html

If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse, call the National Substance Abuse Hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.