LANSING, Mich. — Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a new plan on Thursday to cut opioid deaths in the state by 50% in 5 years. The plan is a part of the newly-formed opioid task force to combat the epidemic in Michigan.
In 2017, Michigan recorded more than 2,000 opioid-related deaths and more than 7,000 Michiganders lost their lives in the last five years, according to the Governor’s office. Whitmer’s goal is ambitious, but Corey Warren, the co-founder of the local recovery community RISE, says it's a huge step in the right direction.
Warren has lived through opioid addiction and has been sober for eight years now.
"It's a Godsend that I'm still here," said Warren.
He started the non-profit WAI-IAM, Inc. in 2013 and now runs Rise Recovery Community in downtown Lansing with his mom. They have 11 homes for people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. So when he heard about the governor's bold new plan to combat the opioid epidemic, he was ecstatic.
"It's a great initiative, I love it. I think everything we're doing as a state right now is a step in the right direction," said Warren.
The strategy starts with a $1 million media campaign to reduce the stigma of opioid addiction.
"It's changing that criticism. The criticism of I'm an addict, I'm struggling with addiction , I'm addicted to heroin. We tend to criticize those who do that. We're trying to bring about that compassion as she says," said Warren.
The plan would add medicine-based treatment programs in three state prisons, expand needle-exchange programs across the state, and eliminate the requirement that doctors get approval from the insurance company before starting treatment for addicts. Dr. Cara Poland with Spectrum health says that’s important.
"Reducing prior authorization is going to allow me to get access to low life-sustaining medication for my patients. I know in the past I've lost patients to follow up where they haven't come back to the office because I wasn't able to get the medication in a timely manner. This would be game-changing for those individuals,” said Poland.
Warren says the changes show a move towards more compassion.
"They're diseases and we want to treat them as much as we can the same and once we start breaking down that stigma that person who was so scared to get honest about it might have a shot. They might be able to come forward and tell somebody they have a problem and that might turn to them getting help and who knows they might go to treatment, get out and start a RISE of their own and save people's lives," said Warren.
Whitmer says the Michigan Opioid Task Force also plans to host town halls across the state in the coming months to hear directly from the community.
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) plans to increase medication-assisted treatment programs to all its prisons by 2023.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MHHS) says funding for the initiative comes from current state and federal resources, and philanthropic dollars.
“I will add that because of the challenges with the legislature our agency overall has real funding challenges and we are very hopeful that the legislature will come back and in a fair way address holes that they left in our budget,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon.
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