As Michigan continues to experience epidemic levels of heroin abuse, neither Macomb County nor surrounding areas have been able to avoid the harm that can result from the continued abuse of this dangerous opioid.
Since the start of November, dramatic increases in heroin overdoses in cities on the opposite side of the state from Macomb County have made headlines. In early November, Grand Haven and Norton Shores were the sites of three heroin overdoses in two days. A month later, police in the Battle Creek area reported a month-long increase in heroin overdose cases, including four heroin overdoses in one 48-hour period.
These reports were similar to what Macomb County experienced earlier this year, and they are unfortunately familiar to officials in an area where heroin abuse remains troublingly prevalent.
In the two-week period from January 20 to February 3, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office reported nine overdoses involving heroin or another opioid. That flurry of opioid overdoses included eight individuals between the ages of 28 and 32, half of whom were women, and one 63-year-old man. Fortunately, none of these nine opioid overdoses were fatal, thanks in large part to the fact that the Macomb County Sheriff’s personnel were able to administer the anti-overdose medication naloxone.
The effectiveness of naloxone, and the fact that Macomb County law enforcement personnel have been equipped with the medication since May 15 are glimmers of hope in an area that has experienced little in the way of good news regarding heroin abuse and addiction in recent years:
- From 2010 to 2012, Macomb County had a fatal heroin overdoses (either 202 or 191, depending upon conflicting information from the state and the county) than any other county in the state of Michigan.
- During the same three-year period, 119 other people in Macomb County died from overdosing on prescription medications, many of which also contained opioids.
- In 2013, Macomb County was the site of 94 deaths that resulted from a heroin overdose and 37 deaths that were attributed to prescription medication overdose.
Statistics like the ones listed above were among the reasons why Macomb County has been a leader in the statewide effort to expand access to naloxone. Of course, naloxone alone is not enough to eradicate the scourge of heroin abuse in Macomb County, or anywhere else in Michigan. While the medication can prevent death from opioid overdose, it does not eliminate the cravings or other withdrawal symptoms that often push people back into heroin abuse, and it has no impact on any past trauma or mental health disorders that may have contributed to a person’s development of heroin addiction in the first place.
To address those issues, and to truly begin to experience success in the fight to reduce heroin abuse and addiction in Macomb County and throughout Michigan, experts and advocates are calling for a multi-faceted effort that includes healthcare, law enforcement, and education.
“[Naloxone] is just piece of a puzzle … where we work as a unified system to make sure when someone overdoses from a narcotic that not only are they brought back to life but that they are given the tools they need to live a more productive life,” District Judge Linda Davis told The Macomb Daily in May 2015, when the county had begun issuing naloxone to law enforcement personnel.