By Aaron Martinez
Guest Contributor, East Lansing
Today in the United States, scores of people will lose their lives to opiate overdose. These people are mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, and family, of all backgrounds and professions. What was once seen as the drug of choice for stereotypical dark-alley drug users is now being accepted as a wider problem than what has been initially believed, a reality check which has unfortunately come too late for too many. In recent years in the state of Michigan, opiate overdose has surpassed automobile accidents, heart attacks, and cancer to become the leading cause of death in our state. More importantly, those who have lost their lives struggling with addiction are no longer confined to consuming their drug illegally.
Prescription painkiller abuse has been an emerging problem throughout the United States for much of the last decade. The high cost of prescription pills, which can be obtained legitimately through a doctor’s prescription, has led to an onslaught of people rushing to their own personal-care physicians to get their hands on medications like OxyContin and Hydrocodone, among others. With the tip of a doctor’s pen, Pandora’s Box can be opened, and for many, there is simply no turning back. These highly addictive painkillers have led to large increases in overdoses in and of themselves throughout the country, but as many users soon realize, the price tag of keeping up with this form of addiction can be insurmountable. When users are unable to adapt to the inflating cost burden of prescription painkillers, many are left looking for something else. This is the point where a prescription drug addiction evolves into a heroin addiction.
Sadly, for many who are caught up in this reality, there seems to be no viable way out. Overdose rates around the country are proof that many users keep going until they simply can’t function anymore. Make no mistake that these individuals are not confined to areas like Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, or Saginaw. They are in Royal Oak, Novi, Birmingham, Clinton Township, Sterling Heights, Auburn Hills, and Ann Arbor, just to name a few. The solution to this epidemic has evaded lawmakers for a long time until February of this year, when the White House released a recommendation calling for the use of a “miracle drug” called Naloxone. Naloxone is a drug which does not have any psychoactive properties but, rather, physically shields opiate receptors in the brain from taking in the drug in high amounts and causing an overdose. The federal recommendation called for equipping police, fire, and EMS services with Naloxone because they are typically the first responders to an overdose before a person is sent to the hospital.
Shortly after the report’s release, State Representatives Hugh D. Crawford (R-Novi) and Anthony Forlini (R-Harrison Township) introduced legislation requiring that police, fire, and EMS responders be trained to administer opiate antagonist medications aboard life-support vehicles. House Bills 5404, 5405, and Senate Bill 857 were signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder on October 13, 2014 during a panel discussion which fielded some audience questions regarding drug abuse and treatment. Under the legislation, prescribers can also dispense the medication under certain circumstances to friends or family of individuals who may be at risk of experiencing a heroin-related overdose. In addition, first responders and civilians are exempt from criminal prosecution or professional sanctions for administering these medications in good faith to those with immediate need.
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