U.P. coalitions get funding to fight opioid issue

State Sara Cambensy, third from right, thanks Jeff Connolly, vice president at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, far right, for a $52,500 grant to address the growing opiod epidemic in the Upper Peninsula, as From left, Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt, substance use disorder prevention coordinator for NorthCare Network Gery Shelafoe, Exectutive Director of the Superior Health Foundation, Jim LaJoie, and State Rep Scott Dianda look on. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — It only takes a glance at your local newspaper or television news to know prescription drug and opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in Michigan and nationwide.

In fact, prescription drug and opioid abuse in Michigan has resulted in the deaths of 2,335 deaths in 2016, more than car accidents that year and more than triple the same statistic in 2012, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield press release.

And to get even closer to home, in 2015, the highest number of opioid prescriptions per person was found in northern Michigan, the release states.

In response to the crisis, community coalitions in the Upper Peninsula received a total of $570,400 in funding through the Taking Action on Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse in Michigan by Supporting Community Responses Initiative on Friday.

The funding comes courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Superior Health Foundation.

Jim LaJoie, executive director of the Superior Health Foundation in Marquette, said community coalitions across the state, including here in the Upper Peninsula, are working fervently on finding funding to address the growing opiate epidemic.

“When I talk to people, when I travel across the Upper Peninsula, whether it’s law enforcement, lay-people, substance abuse counselors, the No. 1 issue that I hear in talking to people is ‘Please do something about the opiate addiction. It is killing our families and destroying lives,'” LaJoie said. “So, we have to be able to find ways that we can work together and collaborate.”

Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, said in recent visits to U.P. communities, the opioid crisis is his constituents No. 1 concern.

“In Lansing we have sponsored and worked on legislation to address this, but it is going to take more than just that,” Dianda said. “It is going to take partnerships and to be able to have those conversations with all of our communities. We have to start talking one-on-one and get everybody educated and get them the help they need, and we appreciate Blue Cross and their support with this initiative.”

Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, agreed that Lansing was supportive of the campaign.

“Everyone is realizing this is a problem in Lansing. We are on your side to help pass legislation, but as everyone has mentioned, we need to start in our local communities, that is where we are going to make the biggest difference,” Cambensy said.

Sheriff Greg Zyburt said from a law enforcement perspective it is important to be proactive.

“Reactive is when I get them in the jail, they sit there, they get out and they start the vicious circle again,” he said. “We need to be proactive with education, with programs in the jail to help stop this problem.”

Gery Shelafoe, substance use disorder prevention coordinator for NorthCare Network, said the coalition will conduct a study, developed by the College of Natural Sciences at Colorado State University, to determine how ready a community is to address the issue of opioid abuse in order to construct a strategy to combat the problem.

“If we know how a community feels about the situation, we know how to help the people in that community,” Shelafoe said. We have such a strong network across the U.P. that we are also collaborating with law enforcement, doctors and other types of professionals in doing a few different things. We are working with law enforcement on drug take-back days so people across the U.P. know where the take-back sites are, and we also want to help educate the community so that they understand why prescribing practices are changing. It is important that individuals know why prescribing practices are changing as well.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.