Amid Opioid Epidemic, Michigan Police Offer Angel Program To Help Addicts Recover Without Fear Of Arrest
Michigan and almost the entire nation are facing an epidemic that is claiming tens of thousands of lives each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 33,000 Americans died in 2015 due to overdoses related to prescription painkillers or illicit opiates/opioids and fentanyl.
In total, there were almost than 52,000 overdose deaths, which also included other drugs such as cocaine and alcohol.
Opioids are drugs commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and include oxycodone and hydrocodone. Illicit opioids include heroin and fentanyl, which often hail from China or Mexico. Fentanyl is a synthetic drug similar to heroin, but up to 50 times more potent. It’s often laced with heroin unknown to the user because it’s inexpensive and easy to manufacture, therefore its inclusion increases dealer profits.
Opioids have a high potential for addiction and abuse. The CDC estimates that around two million Americans are addicted to prescription drugs, and hundreds of thousands more are using heroin.
To keep the prescription painkiller problem in perspective, note that the U.S. accounts for only about 5% of the global population, but it uses 80% of the world’s prescription opioids.
The Michigan State Police Angel Program
In 2015, Gloucester, Massachusetts was at the forefront of a forward-thinking new approach to fighting opioid abuse and deaths. They started what is now known as an “Angel Program” in which drug users who would normally be arrested for related crimes are offered the chance to seek treatment rather than face jail time.
The Angel Program is counter to past approaches to “the war on drugs” where addicts were arrested and incarcerated along with dealers instead of given a chance to receive treatment and become a productive member of society.
According to the website, the Michigan State Police Angel Program allows persons who are fighting addiction to enter a Michigan State Police office during business hours and request help. If accepted into the program, the person will be evaluated by an addiction profession and placed into appropriate treatment.
Angels are volunteers who offer to be present to support individuals during the process and provide transportation, if necessary, to the treatment facility.
The MSP website states that the following counties are covered by the Angel Program: Alcona, Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Baraga, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clinton, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Eaton, Emmet, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Hillsdale Houghton, Ingham. Iron, Jackson, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Leelanau, Lenawee, Livingston, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Menominee, Missaukee, Monroe, Montmorency, Ontonagon, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft, Washtenaw, and Wexford.
FACTS About Michigan Opioid Epidemic
According to Michigan prescription drug monitoring system data, in 2015 and 2016 Michigan health care providers wrote 11 million prescriptions each year for opioids. That’s enough for every resident in Michigan to have one bottle of painkillers.
Prescription opioids in the state increased by 41 percent from 2009-2015. Prescriptions from 2016 would allow each resident in Michigan to have 84 pills, or approximately three weeks worth of painkillers.
Overdoses from heroin and other opioids have doubled since 2012, and people in Michigan are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers than heroin or fentanyl.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services states that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses in 2015 (1,275) now exceed deaths from car accidents (840) or firearm fatalities (1,164.) From 1999-2015, the rate of opioid deaths among all drug overdoses rose from 22% to 67%.
Regarding hospitalizations related to opioids, Michigan is slightly above the national average. In 2014, the state experienced 230 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents, versus 225 nationally, according to data from the U.S. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project.
From 1999-2015 drug overdoses quadrupled, reflecting a trend seen by the country as a whole. Overdose fatalities increased from 455 in 1999 to 1,981 in 2015. Also, from 2014-2015, Michigan was among 19 states that experienced marked increased in overdose fatalities. Michigan’s overdose rate was 15th in the nation at just over 20 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Prescription opioids have fueled the epidemic in Michigan as well as the U.S., in addition to the increasing availability of heroin and fentanyl. According to the CDC, 4 of 5 new heroin users state they began their habit after first becoming addicted to painkillers.
In 2015, prescription opioids were involved in nearly half of the drug poisoning deaths in the state, and about 1 in 5 deaths involved heroin without other opioids.
In 2015, the Upper Peninsula’s Alger County had the highest rate of drug overdose fatalities at more than four deaths per 10,000 residents. Prescription opioid and heroin-related deaths were most prevalent in Benzie and Calhoun counties at nearly three deaths per 10,000 residents.
Not surprisingly, Wayne County experienced the most overdose deaths overall (575) as well as the most opioid-related deaths (400.) Macomb was next at 251 total overdose fatalities and 166 related to opioids, beating out Oakland County in both areas despite having a significantly smaller population (864,000 compared to 1,240,000.)
Several counties have no overdose deaths at all, the largest of which included Houghton and Delta. Others had no overdose deaths by opioids, the largest being Sanilac and Gratiot.
Ingham County, which includes the capital city Lansing experienced 65 overdose deaths, 52 of which were related to opioids. Statewide, Lansing ranked at #20 for the most drug overdose deaths per 10,000.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology