DETROIT — Among the list of more than two dozen recommendations announced Monday by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force, officials say prescriptions need to be better tracked and the overdose antidote drug known as Narcan should become more widely available.
A good chunk of the recommendations would require legislators to approve changes to existing state laws.
Officials said the current tracking system in place, known as the Michigan Automated Prescription System or MAPS, is outdated, underutilized and doesn't provide information in real-time, which can prevent physicians and pharmacists from being able to spot, or stop, a potential abuser.
All prescribing physicians would also be required to use the system under these new recommendations.
“That’ll make our job a lot easier to make something that just truly is instantaneous in the pharmacy and updated instantaneously in case this person has just been somewhere an hour before," Mike Koelzer, of Kay Pharmacy in Grand Rapids told FOX 17.
Michigan ranks 10th nationally in per capita prescription rates of opioid pain relievers and 18th in the nation for all overdose deaths. Several studies have shown prescribed opioids often lead to the use of drugs like heroin.
“This has been not creeping along, this has come about in really the last 10 years; It's exploded," said Dr. R. Corey Waller, with Spectrum Health who is also a member of the state task force.
“One in 100 people will die in this state of an opioid overdose. That’s not appropriate, that’s catastrophic.”
The task force, which formed in mid-June, has been researching trends and examining options for how the state should tackle the issue, which has led to an 11-fold increase in overdoses in the state over the past decade and a half, officials revealed during Monday's press conference.
“The impact of prescription drug and opioid abuse is being felt in every community across Michigan. It crosses all demographic, geographic and political lines,” Snyder said in a news release.
“This problem is something we must work together to address as soon as possible and I appreciate the dedication of Lt. Gov. Calley and the task force in working on this issue and presenting their findings in such a short time frame.”
Other recommendations include eliminating disincentives for people to call for help in overdose or other drug related emergencies, similar to recent legislation passed expanding the state's 'Good Samaritan' Act to include protections for minors reporting prescription drug overdoses.
Officials acknowledge many of the recommendations would require legislative support to fully implement, but Calley said he felt 'confident' lawmakers would be willing to act quickly.
"I really think we have this momentum because it’s reached such epic proportions having it be the number one most preventable cause of death in our state above car accidents that we have to move now," Waller said. "This has to get done.”
Waller said he expects the task force will spawn the formation of a commission to monitor progress on recommendations being implemented.
“All of us on the committee have committed to moving forward with the process of finding which of these we can get done quickly, which of these we can get done in such a way it sets the state up for success many years from now, rather than put a Band-Aid on something again," he said.
The full report makes 25 primary recommendations and seven contingent recommendations in the areas of prevention, treatment, regulation, policy and outcomes, and enforcement.
Highlights of the recommendations include:
- Updating or replacing the Michigan Automated Prescription System.
- Requiring registration and use of MAPS by those who are prescribing and dispensing prescription drugs.
- Updating regulations on the licensing of pain clinics, which hasn’t been done since 1978.
- Increasing licensing sanctions for health professionals who violate proper prescribing and dispensing practices.
- Providing easier access to Naloxone, a drug that reduces the effects of an opioid overdose.
- Limiting criminal penalties for low-level offenses for those who seek medical assistance with an overdose.
- Increasing access to care through wraparound services and Medication Assisted Treatment programs.
- Requiring additional training for professionals who prescribe controlled substances.
- Reviewing successful drug takeback programs for possible replication and expansion.
- Increasing the number of addiction specialists practicing in Michigan.
- Reviewing programs to eliminate doctor and pharmacy shopping and requiring a bona-fide doctor-patient relationship for prescribing controlled substances.
- Creating a public awareness campaign about the dangers of prescription drug use and abuse and how people can get help for themselves or family members.
- Increasing training for law enforcement in recognizing and dealing with addiction for those officers who do not deal directly with narcotics regularly.
- Considering pilot programs for the development of testing to reduce the increasing incidence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which leads to severe withdrawal symptoms for babies born to mothers who have been using opioids.
Drug overdoses, especially involving heroin and prescription painkillers, continue to be an issue across West Michigan.
From Branch to Muskegon County, law enforcement officials told FOX 17 in May they're seeing more overdoses, more frequently. In Branch County, officials saw three heroin overdoses in just one week that month, and two were deadly.
In Muskegon, first responders said in May they were averaging one overdose call per day, while overdoses in Ottawa County had quadrupled in the past five years, according to Lt. Andy Fias, with the Michigan State Police West Michigan Enforcement Team, or WEMET.
Paramedics have been equipped with Narcan overdose drug for years and have had successful results. The drug also known by its generic equivalent, Naloxone—is an antidote that targets the brain receptors affected by opiate drugs like heroin. When administered, it can reverse the depression of the central nervous system, respiratory system, and hypo tension in a matter of seconds. If given to someone who isn't experiencing an overdose, the drug becomes benign and has virtually no effect or side effects.
Soon every first responder in the state, including police, firefighters and basic EMTs, will be required to have Narcan following legislation passed and signed late last fall by Gov. Snyder.