VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. — As we continue to make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts said there is still an opioid crisis sweeping the nation.
One West Michigan county has created a campaign to continue the awareness.
The "Opioid Billboard Campaign" is encouraging people to bring both prescription and over-the-counter drugs to a safe disposable box, like a "RedMed" box, which is used to safely dispose of unused, unwanted and expired medications.
"Over the past three or four years across the nation, we have been essentially in an opioid crisis or an epidemic," said Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health's Substance Use Disorder Director Joel Smith.
Opioid abuse is sweeping the nation, and Joel Smith with Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health said it's very much prevalent in Van Buren County.
That's why Van Buren Community Mental Health has put up the billboards to make sure it's not overlooked.
"Part of the reason that this billboard campaign was important is abusing opiates and other prescriptions is a common problem," said Van Buren Community Mental Health's Substance Use Disorder Services Supervisor Nikki VanSandt.
The campaign placed four billboards around the county and was made possible from a $7,000 grant given by the Van Buren County Family Against Narcotics chapter.
"We chose to use this money to be able to get the information out to our community. It is important to safely store, not share and dispose of the medication," said VanSandt.
Have you seen these billboards around #VanBuren County? It’s a new campaign made possible by a grant to help raise awareness towards opioid addiction disorder.— Lauren Kummer (@LaurenKummerTV) January 29, 2021
The goal is to encourage people to throw away unused, unwanted and expired medications. @FOX17 pic.twitter.com/lXJjP4X166
"The good news is we have seen some decline, and people seeking treatment for opioid use disorder. That would suggest that some of the prevention efforts and the treatment models that we’re using are working," said Smith.
To date, Opioid Addiction Disorder continues to be the second-leading reason people seek treatment, with alcohol as number one.
Especially during the pandemic, health experts said overdoses have increased exponentially.
"It’s increasing the awareness throughout our community, helping to reduce the risk of accidental overdose," said VanSandt.
Smith recommends that if you have a loved one who is addicted to opioids, you have Nalaxone on hand to reverse the effects of a potential overdose. You can get that from Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health.
If you have any unused, unwanted or expired medications, Van Buren County is encouraging you to dispose of them at any "RedMed" box. Locations in Van Buren County can be found by clicking here.