It was 12:30 and Kent County Sheriff Deputy Patrick Stewart was on lunch break when he stopped at a firehouse somewhere in Cutlerville, on the outskirts of Grand Rapids. He had heard loud knocking on the door and was responding in kind. When he got to the door, there was a frantic man who had his buddy - in the back of his vehicle - overdosed on heroin. He was not breathing.
Patrick called for an ambulance and as soon as the paramedic arrived, she (turned out to be Patrick's wife) started chest compressions on the unconscious man then gave him Naxolone (an antidote used for heroin overdose). Together, the newly-wed couple saved the man who was on the verge of slipping away.
That part of the story was remarkable but everything else is becoming far too common. Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young says that in the course of an entire year, they've had to respond to multiple cases for heroin; suspected heroin overdoses. Many counties in Michigan and all over the US are dealing with the same crisis. In fact, 4 years ago, the Center for Disease Control declared it an epidemic. Heroin is just one part of this epidemic. It's an opiate. People start abusing prescribed opiates (used for managing pain) then gradually turn to heroin.
In Michigan alone, more than 3000 people have died from opiate use since 2005. Recently, a task force appointed by the governor released its recommendations for dealing with the crisis. Judge Linda Davis who has watched the opiate epidemic unfold in her courtroom over the last decade said that they were at a point where they are losing so many people that it couldn't be ignored anymore. She was part of the task force that came up with the recommendations.
The good news is that the task force's recommendations are easy to implement. For example, the recommendation that Naxolone should be readily available is coming to life. Paramedics carry it. But Davis wants to see it in every ambulance, fire truck and police cruiser. The task force also recommends a new legislation that would see Naxolone available over-the-counter in pharmacies. In addition to this, an update to the online database that tracks all opiate prescriptions in the state should be made such that all dentists, doctors and pharmacists can get wind of any possible abuse.
The implementation of these recommendations may take a little time to roll smoothly but they are not expensive. The bigger challenge here is how the state will help thousands of people already struggling with addiction. Treatment is not cheap. Many people only get one week rehabilitation since that's what is covered by their health insurance.
Judge Davis says this is not enough as nobody gets cured of an addiction in 7 days. What then were her thoughts on untangling this mess? She believes that the one thing that matters is legislation. Changing the law or rather setting up new laws to help the average Michigan overcome heroin and opiate addiction by making treatment affordable.