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Opioid seminar aimed at preventing hotel overdose deaths

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 31, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — Anti-drug activist Mark Kilgore knows the statistics prove that opioid abuse and overdose deaths have skyrocketed over the past two decades in Michigan.

In 1999, the state had 99 opioid overdose deaths; in 2016, there were 1,731, he said.

“It’s higher than that now,” he said. “So to me, that shows this is a public health problem.”

Kilgore, who is affiliated with the nonprofit CARE of Southeastern Michigan, spoke about drug abuse and treatment during the May 23 Operation Safe Stay opioid awareness event at the Sterling Heights Police Department.

Besides CARE — which stands for Community Assessment Referral and Education — the Sterling Heights Drug Free Coalition also partnered with police in the program.

During the event, activists and police  officers taught dozens of attendees, including hotel and motel workers, how they could help stop drug overdoses from becoming fatal. When the seminar concluded, local lodgings were provided with free kits that contained the antidote drug naloxone. Narcan is a brand name for a device that delivers the drug.

According to police and activists, examples of prescription opioids include oxycodone and hydrocodone. One particularly dangerous opioid is fentanyl, which can kill even in tiny amounts. According to experts, many people start taking opioids under a prescription for some sort of pain, but then grow addicted to them or other narcotics.

Sterling Heights Police Lt. Mario Bastianelli said the opioid awareness event was designed to teach the community about drugs, their dangers and their treatments. But the intent had a specific core audience: hotel and motel workers.

That’s because, Bastianelli said, those who are addicted often see those lodgings as a “safe haven” where they can use narcotics.

“These locations are prime locations for overdoses, for substance abuse,” he said.

As a result, Bastianelli said, police are engaging in a “two-pronged attack” against the epidemic that involves education as well as making naloxone available to first responders and critical locations, like hotels.

If an overdose is caught early enough, naloxone can be an effective treatment, he said.

“Narcan saves lives. That is a known fact,” Bastianelli said. “It immediately reverses the effects of the opiate, and it brings people right back to life, which is amazing. And so we’re providing more of that to the public.”

Bastianelli said that besides the naloxone training, it’s also important for hotel workers to learn how to spot the telltale signs of a patron’s substance abuse.

“A cleaning lady who gets trained in this and gets educated in this tonight, she’ll be able to walk into a room, see there’s some prescription pills that are maybe crushed up on the nightstand. There’s needles … different types of wrappers and stuff that happen to contain narcotics,” he said.

“These are all red flags that to people (are) like, ‘Oh, well, somebody is using some kind of substance in this room.’”

Bastianelli added that some drug users are scared to go to the police, hesitant to ask for help because they fear going to jail.

“At the end of the day, we want to get them help. That’s our goal and objective ... (to) get the people help,” he said.

Mark Gabrail, the manager of a local Knights Inn and a Super 8, said the event was a way to equip employees to use resources that could be used to treat people who need critical help.

“Right now we’re trying to learn how to use it, in order to use it,” Gabrail said. “We’ll make sure to prepare ourself, to make sure we save any life that we can save.”

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Police Department by calling (586) 446-2800. Find out more about CARE of Southeastern Michigan by visiting