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Panel: opioids can be gateway drugs

  • Mark Hall, Kent County Health Department medical director, presents local statistics on opioids.
  • Michelle Young, Kent County undersheriff
  • Steve Alsum, director of Grand Rapids Red Project

Posted on December 06, 2016

In 2013, physicians and other health care providers across the country wrote more than 250 million prescriptions for opioids, a highly addictive class of pain relievers that includes oxycodone and fentanyl.

That's more than enough prescriptions to provide all adults living in the U.S. with their own bottle of pills.

"The State of Opioid Abuse in West Michigan" was the topic of December's Health Forum of West Michigan, hosted by Grand Valley's Office of the Vice Provost for Health. Held at the L. William Seidman Center December 2, panelists were from the Kent County Sheriff's Department, Kent County Health Department, Grand Rapids Red Project and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Tom Burns, DEA special agent, said opioid abuse leads many addicts to begin using heroin; yet more addicts die from prescription pill abuse than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. He said in addition to a coordinated enforcement effort with local police agencies, the DEA also works with area pharmacies, health care providers and drug manufacturers on opioid abuse awareness.

Mark Hall, medical director for the Kent County Health Department, said there were 84 opioid overdose deaths in the county in 2015, and 310 during the last five years. He added that number is lower than other Michigan counties, due in part to the work by the Red Project.

The Red Project counsels people who are actively using drugs and offers medication assisted treatment plans. Executive director Steve Alsum said the Red Projectstaff members have trained more than 3,000 people in West Michigan to use Naloxone rescue kits. Also known as Narcan, the prescription can safely reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Michelle Young, Kent County undersheriff, said deputies saved 12 lives last year by administering Narcan. 

The next Health Forum of West Michigan event will be January 13 at the Eberhard Center. Seidman College of Business faculty members Kevin Callison and Leslie Muller will present the findings of the West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast. Details and registration information can be found by clicking here.


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