Experts discuss ‘staggering’ scope, statistics of opioid crisis

Macomb County one of ‘hardest hit,’ more than 200 deaths in 2016

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 2, 2018

 Macomb County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz presented “staggering” statistics from the ongoing opioid crisis during a town hall meeting at the Van Dyke Community Auditorium in Warren Jan. 31.

Macomb County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz presented “staggering” statistics from the ongoing opioid crisis during a town hall meeting at the Van Dyke Community Auditorium in Warren Jan. 31.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WARREN — Parent. Doctor. Teacher. Cop. Friend. Counselor. Addict. Whatever your role, there’s no denying that the numbers emerging from the ongoing opioid crisis are staggering.

Macomb County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz delivered the tragic, hard facts to those assembled for a town hall meeting at the Van Dyke Community Auditorium in Warren on Jan. 31.  

“Certainly, all of us are aware that there is a significant drug problem in the United States. But what you might not be aware of is that the center of that opiate epidemic is in Michigan,” Spitz said. “Michigan is one of the hardest-hit states in the country, and unfortunately, Macomb County is one of the hardest-hit counties.”

About 175 people attended the “Heroin and Opioid Epidemic 360 Town Hall Meeting,” hosted by the Macomb County Department of Health and Community Services.

Spitz said that’s about how many people died each day nationally in 2016. Included in that number, he said, was about one person per day on average in Macomb County.

And the problem is getting worse.

On hand for the meeting to discuss the statistics, the scope of the crisis and the response to it were experts from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Warren Police Department, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, the Michigan State Police, Warren’s 37th District Court, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, the Macomb County Health Department, the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse, CARE of Southeastern Michigan, Families Against Narcotics, and the Warren/Center Line Prevention Coalition.

The discussion was moderated by Amy Lange, of Fox 2 News.

“This critical issue affects our families, our friends and our community,” Van Dyke Public Schools Superintendent Piper Bognar said. “The right action is one more way for us to make a difference: every student, every day, no matter what.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel offered introductory remarks and shared a personal story about a family member who died battling addiction.

“I don’t consider this to be a bad news story,” Hackel said. “I consider it to be one that is necessary so that we can get rid of the stigma that sometimes goes around people that are struggling with these challenges.

“The reality is these people are loved by many of us,” Hackel said.

Topics discussed by the panel ranged from the statistics and how we got here, to paths of recovery for addicts. Law enforcement and prosecution were also addressed. Another question focused on what’s being done nationally to cut off the flow of narcotics that increase in potency from heroin to fentanyl and carfentanil, a substance that’s 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Spitz said a “big factor” that has contributed to the opioid epidemic lies in the huge increase in the amount of painkillers manufactured by drug companies and prescribed by doctors since 2000.

“Interestingly, the amount of prescription medication sold quadrupled from the period of 1999 until 2010,” Spitz said.

He added, “In 2015, the amount of opiates prescribed was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks straight. So these statistics are pretty staggering.”

The experts said today’s heroin often enters the United States from Mexico and is sometimes mixed with fentanyl or carfentanil, which can increase the risk of overdose.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses from prescription opioids are a “driving factor” in a 16-year increase in overdose deaths. The CDC indicated that 66 percent of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. now involve an opioid, and that the number of deaths in 2016 involving prescription opioids or heroin was five times what it was in 1999.

Drug overdoses claimed 600,000 lives in the United States from 2000 to 2016, according to the CDC.

Locally, the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office reported 201 deaths related to heroin or fentanyl, or a combination thereof, in 2016, compared to 138 in 2015. The final numbers for 2017 were not yet available at press time.

Kendall Rogers, a senior at Lincoln High School and a student representative of the Warren/Center Line Prevention Coalition, said hearing the truth and cutting through distractions are the keys to getting through to teens.

“It moves so fast, so to get the message out to teens, first you’ve got to tell them the truth,” Rogers said. “The truth will not hurt. You’ve got to tell them the truth and let them know what’s going on. You’ve got to show them the truth.”