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Mich. overdose deaths climb 8 percent; families push for addiction education

Noah Fromson/WZZM-TV • Aug 22, 2018 at 5:00 PM

Overdose deaths in the state of Michigan reached new heights again, as narcotics killed an estimated 2,662 people in 2017, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The predicted numbers are an 8.3 percent increase from CDC’s 2016 data. The findings estimate 71,568 overdose deaths in the country, a 6.6 percent increase.

The Michigan overdose death toll outpaced recent reports for both traffic and gun deaths in the state. Michigan State Police recorded 1,028 traffic deaths in 2017, and the CDC tallied 1,230 firearm fatalities in 2016.

The increase is not surprising and more pronounced in Kent County, said Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.

“The opioid epidemic, especially around here, seems to be going under the radar,” Becker said. “I think Ohio and some of the East Coast states are getting hit much harder, it seems, than we are here. So, I think locally it’s not as prevalent, at least in the public eye.”

Kent County lost 156 people to drug overdoses in 2017, up 67 percent from the previous year. Opioids such as fentanyl contributed to the rise, said medical examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle.

“Each year gets a little bit, in terms of the deaths and in terms of overdoes that we’re seeing going into the emergency department,” Becker said. “So those trends for 2018 in the first six months are going upwards just like they were in 2017.”

State and local law enforcement can’t incarcerate their way out of the opioid epidemic, and law enforcement looking more at treatment and taking out dealers, he said.

“We’re taking a much harder look at it. It used to be, in the past, that we would only issue a delivery causing death [charge] if a person actually pushed the needle,” Becker said. “…Now we're broadening that perspective so if you just simply give somebody the drugs we are pursuing that as an overdose causing death."

The report notes that the state death tolls are likely higher due to incomplete reporting. The total number of reported overdose deaths is 2,563.

Opioid overdose deaths in Michigan have increased steadily since 2012 and nearly doubled between 2014 and 2016.

More parents will lose their children if people are not better educated on addiction, said Theresa Adkison, who lost her son, Derek, to an overdose in January.

“The person down the street that doesn’t have addiction in their lives, it could happen tomorrow,” Adkison said. “And so we need to be educated so everybody can work on it because the addicts that are on the streets, they’re affecting those people.”

Molly Reid, who lost her daughter, Meghan, to a heroin overdose in 2016, shares Meghan's story whenever she can.

“I can't help my daughter any longer, but I can use her voice and our knowledge to help other people that are in this situation or actually to prevent them from getting into the situation that we're in. Because the loss of a child is unconscionable,” Reid said.

Both Reid and Adkison are part of Families Against Narcotics (FAN), a group that seeks to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction.

“We’re trying to get legislation passed so that the communities will come together, the higher-ups, the prosecutors, the sheriff’s department, [and] put some money into recovery and help people get into recovery and help their families with it because it’s a family disease,” Adkison said. “It affects the entire family.”

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