Houghton Lake Resorter: Opioid crisis devastating community Peters told during visit to Gerrish

In an effort to meet those combating the opioid crisis on daily basis, United States Senator Gary Peters held a roundtable Friday at Gerrish Township Hall.

Peters met with representatives of area law enforcement agencies, human service groups, medical fields, first responding units and local municipalities in order to get a sense of what the opioid crisis is like locally.

“The opioid crisis has devastated our community and endangered our staff,” said Brandon Rodgers, Gerrish Township Fire/EMS Department 2nd Lieutenant.

In a recent survey, the county ranked 25th in the nation for most opioid prescrip­tions filled. More opioids have been dispensed in Roscommon County than anywhere else in Michigan, enough for 443 pills per person.

“The only way that I can effectively appreciate the complexity of it is by going out and talking to the people who are dealing with this each and every day,” Peters told the Resorter.

As part of the roundtable discussion, Peters informed those in attendance of the Opioid Crisis Response Act– a bipartisan legislation that includes provisions based off Peters’ YOUTH (Youth Opioid Use Treatment Help) Act. The YOUTH Act ex­pands access to opioid addiction treatment for adolescents and young adults.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 would improve the efforts of federal agencies to help respond to the opioid epidemic, including its effect on children, families and communities. The legislation, which was recently approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, includes provisions from the YOUTH Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Peters and Shel­ley Moore Capito (R-WV). Those provisions will expand an existing substance use treatment program to boost outreach to young adults and improve resources for med­ication assisted treatment (MAT) for youth. MAT combines behavioral therapy with buprenorphine and other drugs to help prevent accidental overdose and loss of life.

Following the roundtable, Senator Peters sat down with the Resorter to further discuss the opioid crisis including the difficulty those seeking treatment in rural com­munities face and how technology can make seeking treatment easier.

Peters said one of the takeaway issues from the earlier roundtable discussion was the importance of telemedicine, especially in rural areas. He said people tend to be more spread out in rural areas and have to drive longer distances to seek treatment. When those long distances become a factor, Peters said people do not always get the treatment they require and then the problem begins to spiral downward.

He said telemedicine could be a tool that has significant impact on substance abuse problems, however, there are two areas that need to be addressed to make telemedicine work. First, Peters said broadband and high-speed internet needs to be accessible in all areas of rural America. Secondly, he said there needs to be an assur­ance that entities such as Medicare and Medicaid will reimburse medical providers for telemedicine services.

Peters added that telemedicine has the ability to be better for patients, more effi­Opioid cient, as well as more cost-effective.

“Now, of course you need to have ac­cess to the communications technology to do it. But that’s another reason why we have to make sure everyone has ac­cess,” Peters said of high-speed internet.

The second takeaway Peters gained from the roundtable discussion is the impact of opioid abuse on local govern­ments financially.

“They [local governments] are al­ready strapped for resources. And then when individuals end up in the local jail for example, they have to basically take care of them and they are not re­imbursed for that, which is a real drain on local governments’ ability to provide other services that they need to provide to other people,” Peters said.

In response to mental health treat­ment, Peters told the Resorter that those who are suffering from mental illnesses shouldn’t be in jail.

“Jail is not the place to provide men­tal illness treatment and nor should it ever be,” Peters said. He said there needs to be a commitment to provide people with more options for dealing with their mental health issues.

Peters suggested that a “regional ap­proach” might be the way to help people deal with their substance abuse prob­lems.

He said the regional approach idea, which was suggested during the round­table by Dr. Marty Lougen, Chief Medi­cal Officer, Munson Healthcare Grayling Hospital, could provide people with the resources to seek other drugs that will help them ween from their substance abuse problem.

“It was clear that there are very few physicians in Northern Michigan that have the training to administer those treatments and yet those treatments are known to be highly effective,” Peters said. He said although not every physi­cian can be trained to administer these treatments, taking a regional approach through telemedicine will be able to con­nect patients in a cost effective way to the treatment they need.

Peters added that there seems to be a strong desire to increase money in Congress to provide additional funding toward opioid abuse as it’s a problem ef­fecting all areas of America.

“But in my mind, it has to go directly to local governments,” Peters said of funding. He said local governments are better positioned to understand their own communities and know what works and what gaps need to be filled locally.

“I don’t want to see any of that being

Peters said the opioid matter is high on the list of issues to be addressed and the Homeland Security Committee has been holding hearings on the matter. He said because everyone knows someone dealing with substance abuse, society, along with pharmacies and physicians must come together to address the prob­lem.

He said it was important to visit Roscommon County based on the “shocking” statistics that were released on the county’s opioid abuse.

“The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities across Michigan, taking the lives of loved ones and destroying the future of too many of our youth,” said Peters. “Almost everyone in the state of Michigan knows someone who has been affected by this crisis, and I appreciate the hard work of the first re­sponders, police and health care provid­ers who are the frontline defense in this fight. I will continue working to ensure our communities have the resources and tools they need to save lives and protect Michiganders from the harmful impact of opioids.”

Source: Houghton Lake Resorter