Monroe News: Panelists: More changes needed to deal with opioid crisis
Addiction recovery programs like Ryan’s Hope and Life Challenge are helping to ease the pain and loss of loved ones due to opioid addiction.
“We have to change the mindset of addicts,” said George Barath, founder of Ryan’s Hope Foundation and father of a son who died from addiction. “They beat up on everybody. Life Challenge gives them another chance to succeed and hope through our Heavenly Father.”
Barath served on a panel discussion at Monroe High School this week on the opioid crisis in Monroe County. About 60 people attended the event held in a classroom, including several parents who had lost children from overdoses.
One hundred Americans die every day from overdoses and more than 1,000 people are being treated every day, said U. S. Rep. Tim Walberg, who organized the forum and panel.
“Three out of four new heroin users abuse opioids the first time,” the Tipton Republican said. “It’s all over. We have pill dumping that goes on in places like West Virginia, where two pharmacies have given out two million opioid prescriptions in a town of 3,000 people. How does that happen? We have to get a handle on that.”
Two benefit hockey games have helped the foundation named after his son send almost 70 youths and young adults through Life Challenge, an intense and structured residential program that rehabs addicts over a period from 90 days up to a year, Barath said.
“We’ve come a long way in 10 years,” he said. “But we’re still losing so many.”
Wendy Klinski, program manager for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, said the region is fortunate that “we have so many resources and women-specific groups in this community.”
She mentioned a new peer support effort in the emergency room at ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital that started in February.
The Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office and the county Substance Abuse Coalition has partnered with organizations like Catholic Charities and other entities to increase awareness and come up with action plans to curb prescription drug and heroin abuse.
“Here in Monroe, we take a community- based approach that includes law enforcement, medical professionals and treatment groups,” Prosecutor William Paul Nichols said. “On my side, we’re focusing on dealers and currently have six cases of delivery causing death. And the (City of Monroe) has created a vice unit we didn’t have before.”
Deandre Meiring, whose son, Dylan, 20, died in January after a long battle with addiction, told the panel that she wanted to see Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) instruction for fifth- graders be taught instead to seventh- and eighth-graders before they enter high school.
“Schools need to take a better approach,” Meiring said. “It’s not just adults. It’s kids making bad choices. I know a lot of kids 15-20 who are taking prescription pills.”
Barath agreed with her, saying youths lean more on their peers than parents.
“It needs to be in junior high and make it more passionate in the schools,” he said.
Klinski said the coalition and student prevention leadership teams at all 12 high schools in the county are providing education and advocacy on four main campaigns — prescription drugs, marijuana, tobacco and alcohol abuse.
“The data shows we are bringing awareness into all high schools,” she said. “We started with 70 students when we started the teams. Today, it’s over 300 in the county. These kids put a lot into these campaigns.”
About 350 students attended the coalition’s last summit in December, Nichols noted.
“It’s effective when students talk peer to peer,” he said.
A man whose son was addicted to pills for 15 years said Vivitrol, a nonaddictive treatment used with counseling, was effective in treating him.
“I’m a strong supporter of Vivitrol — it saved my son’s life,” the man said. “He’s been clean for 21 months and is on his own now. This stuff is a miracle drug, (but) it takes two years to get out of your system.”
Nichols said Vivitrol is one of three medicationassisted treatments used in recovery. The others are Suboxone and Methadone.
Another woman asked what path to take if you suspect someone is on drugs and the person is in denial. Klinski replied a “direct approach” is the best solution.
“We do outreach services and get you set up with help,” she said. “It depends on what substance he’s on ... call him out on those behaviors.”
Vicky Loveland, coordinator for the coalition, said many people still don’t know how to dispose of unused and expired medications in a safe way through Red Med Boxes that have been placed at area law enforcement offices. Walberg said the collection boxes are a good way to get rid of unused medications.
“Don’t burn them or drop them in the trash,” the lawmaker said. “We need to dispose of them properly. There are victims and criminality out there.”
Jennifer Sell, director of pharmacy at ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital, said everyone has a role to play, including physicians.
“We need to set better expectations with our patients and their pain,” Sell said. “We have to go back to the basics and treat them all... physicians are ready to change their practices.”
Lt. Marc Moore from the Michigan State Police and head of the Monroe Area Narcotics Team and Investigative Services (MANTIS) said more help is needed to target high-level dealers.
“We’ve had some success, but we don’t have enough” detectives, he said. “People think we have 50 or 60 people, but it’s really five. That’s it.”
This article originally appeared in the March 31 edition of the Monroe News.