Opioid crisis topic of April 11 town hall

Free Narcan kits available after training

By: Brendan Losinski, Kayla Dimick | C&G Newspapers | Published April 2, 2018

 Collected medications wait to be properly disposed of in 2016 in Shelby Township.

Collected medications wait to be properly disposed of in 2016 in Shelby Township.

Photo provided by Shelby Township Community Relations Director Brad Bates

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SOUTHFIELD — As opioid-related deaths continue to rise in the U.S., local officials are hosting a town hall on the national crisis this month.

A panel of experts will discuss the opioid problem in Southfield, Lathrup Village, Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Franklin at 6 p.m. April 11 in the Southfield Public Library auditorium, 26300 Evergreen Road.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016. In that same year, 40 percent of all overdoses involved a prescription opioid. In Oakland County in 2016, 165 people died from opioid-related overdoses.

Opioids, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers obtained legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others.

The town hall will focus on the fiscal, social, psychological and economic impact the crisis has on local communities.

The panel will be made up of Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Southfield Police Chief Eric Hawkins, Southfield Fire Chief Johnny Menifee, 46th District Court Judge Debra Nance, state Rep. Jeremy Moss, attorney Mark Bernstein and Oakland Community Health Network representative Christiana Nicholas.

Nance said the idea for the town hall stemmed from a talk she attended in 2015 at Groves High School in Beverly Hills. Nance said she also attended a judicial conference that encouraged judges to hold town halls on the opioid epidemic in their jurisdictions.

Sam Quinones, journalist and author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” gave a presentation on his book, which details exactly how the opioid epidemic was born.  

Nance said Quinones’ book traces the start of the epidemic to the 1980s, when pharmaceutical companies started marketing new opiate-based painkillers as “wonder drugs.”

These marketing campaigns sparked many addictions to opiates, Nance said, as did a new strain of black-tar heroin that was being marketed toward middle-class America.

“(Quinones) tells this tale of these two situations occurring. Over the course of the last 20 years or so, they merge to create this perfect storm, if you will, that had people in suburban communities going from prescription painkillers to heroin, and it was just this odd phenomenon,” Nance said.

Once a person gets addicted to prescription painkillers, Nance said, it can be hard to find the drug after their prescription runs out. People who become addicted soon find out they can get the same effects from street pills and heroin.

Nance said she is also working with the Oakland County chapter of Families Against Narcotics on the panel event.

“One of the issues that was brought forth was the stigma that is still attached in 2018 to this problem,” Nance said. “You even hear about soccer moms that have problems with pill addiction, so it is now to the point in 2018 that we’re using the word ‘epidemic.’ It is now to the point where it is affecting all races, all economic lines. It has crossed all barriers, and doctors apparently are starting to understand that it has created some addictive behaviors.”

Nance said she is also seeing evidence of the epidemic in her courtroom.

“I’m seeing young people coming in who appeared to have  — one or two years prior — a bright future who now have a heroin addiction,” she said. “I was also starting to see senior citizens for things such as retail fraud. If you start to ask enough questions, you understand these senior citizens are stealing to pay for painkillers because they can’t afford street drugs on their fixed income.”

Beverly Hills Public Safety Department Deputy Chief Howard Shock said public safety officials are taking the epidemic seriously.

“People are aware of the crisis,” Shock said. “It affects people from all walks of life, and we take it very serious here. … People need to be aware of the signs and symptoms.”

Following the discussion, at 8 p.m., the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities and the Oakland Community Health Network will distribute free naloxone kits, with on-site training. Naloxone is a drug used to reverse an accidental overdose.

Those who wish to receive the free kits will receive training on how to use them from the Southfield Fire Department.

“There is only so much you can do until they want to get help, but their families are struggling with what day it is going to be that they find the person has overdosed,” Nance said. “Hopefully, these (kits) will be able to keep them alive until help arrives.”

Representatives of local treatment facilities will also be on hand to provide information on their services.

The event is free and open to the public, with no registration required. For more information, call Southfield Human Services at (248) 796-4542.

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