LANSING, Mich. -- Growing, widespread abuse of prescription painkillers and opioids like heroin has quadrupled the number of unintentional deaths in the state during the past 15 years.
That staggering statistic was presented last month by Lt. Gov Brian Calley following the launch of a statewide task force to tackle prescription drug and opioid use.
Tuesday evening, members of the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force are asking the public to provide input during a hearing at the Capitol building about how to effectively address the issue. The public hearing will be held from 5-7 p.m. in the House Appropriations Committee room on the third floor of the Capitol building.
In his 2015 State of the State address in January, Gov. Snyder called for a comprehensive plan to address the widespread drug abuse. The bipartisan task force will work to develop a statewide action plan by this fall.
“It’s something we need to tackle as a legislature," said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who was asked to join the task force.
Schuitmaker sponsored bills signed into law last year making the drug Nalaxone--or Narcan--more easily accessible to families and friends of recovering drug addicts. The medication has been hailed as an overdose antidote because it can reverse the effects of an overdose in seconds.
“It’s definitely an issue that needs to be brought to the forefront because this can affect anyone’s family, anyone’s daughter, anyone’s parents, sisters, brothers."
In Allegan County, part of Schuitmaker's district, the 'drug of choice' for years has been meth. But law enforcement now say they are seeing heroin emerge as a new alternative. Even more troubling, sources tell FOX 17 the recent growth rate for heroin use is similar to what Muskegon County experienced several years ago, where heroin overdoses now average one per day.
“The problem with heroin is that it’s a very low-cost drug and oftentimes it is cheaper than other prescription opiates," Schuitmaker said.
Nancy King, a Kalamazoo-area mother who organized a support group for families struggling with addiction after losing her daughter to a drug overdose, told FOX 17 in May the issue of drug abuse needs a community response because it can hit anyone in any community.
King said she plans to attend Tuesday's hearing in Lansing and is hopeful the group will work toward increasing medication-assisted therapy for incarcerated individuals, while also continuing the advancement of the Good Samaritan Act to include protection from prosecution for drug users who report an overdose to 9-1-1.
In next year's state budget, $1.5 million has already been set aside to address statewide concerns on this issue.