How We Are Helping Michigan to Fight the Opioid Epidemic
This op-ed originally appeared on the MLive on May 22, 2017.
When I took office as head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this year, we committed to confronting our nation's opioid crisis head-on. Understanding the crisis requires talking to Americans who are on the front lines, which is why we embarked this month on a listening tour across four states. Our first visit was to Lansing.
Michigan, like America as a whole, has been hit hard by the scourge of opioid addiction. In 2015, almost 2,000 Michiganders died of overdoses, the majority of them from opioids, up more than 25 percent from just two years before. Nationally, about as many Americans are dying every year of overdoses from drugs as we lost during the Vietnam War.
We were on the road to learn about what local communities are doing to fight the opioid crisis, and how the Trump administration can support local initiatives, learn what is working, and fix what is not.
Michigan has done admirable work against this epidemic of opioid addiction, especially through its opioids task force. This year, the state rolled out a cutting-edge prescription-drug monitoring system that enables doctors to learn a patient's prescription history with the click of a button.
In Lansing, we were able to meet the task force, which includes not just policy makers but advocates, first responders, and many more who have been inspired, sometimes by tragedy, to join this fight.
One task force member, Judge Linda Davis, took action after her daughter began using opioids while still in high school. At points, she told us, she worried she was going to lose her daughter to the addiction. The experience inspired Judge Davis to fight for treatment for Michiganders with addiction, especially those involved with the criminal justice system.
Another, Mike Hirst, lost his 24-year-old son Andy to an opioid overdose. Mike has now dedicated time and treasure to helping other parents avoid such a tragedy. He founded Andy's Angels, a nonprofit in Jackson, and has focused in part on getting resources to kids in rural areas who are struggling with addiction.
Individuals like Mike and Linda cannot put an end to this crisis on their own. President Trump and his entire administration are committed to joining their fight, and providing the unique resources and expertise the federal government has to offer.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, we've announced a five-point strategy for how we can best help local communities beat back the epidemic. It includes:
- Improving access to treatment and recovery services, including medication-assisted treatment.
- Promoting the targeted availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs.
- Strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance.
- Providing support for cutting edge research on pain and addiction.
- And advancing better practices for pain management.
Work on these fronts will be a boost to efforts already underway in Michigan. Last month, HHS disbursed $485 million worth of grants to increase access to addiction treatment, with $16 million headed to Michigan. We will be making another round of grants next year, informed in part by our listening tour and evidence-based state action.
Michiganders also emphasized that people are too often not being referred to treatment when they most need it. Getting Americans to an array of treatments, including medication-assisted treatments, is so crucial. That's why we are so encouraged by the president's announcement of his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which will explore best practices for closing this gap.
We look forward to the day when we get to return to Michigan to meet again with heroes like Mike and Linda -- not to raise awareness of a battle we're fighting but to celebrate that we have finally turned the tide.