Working to end the heroin epidemic

Posted: 8:43 AM, Jan 08, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-08 08:43:03-05

It started with pain medication prescribed by a doctor.

"She had a couple of severe accidents in her youth; and then, it was during then 80s when we were overprescribing and prescribing we didn't want people to have pain," Amanda Lick of Families Against Narcotics explained.

Her mom's prescription for pain escalated into an addiction that lasted on and off for 25 years.

Lick's Mom passed away at age 44.

"For her, I was thankful that the pain was gone and it also validated for me that she really was suffering and that she was really really sick," Lick explained.

It's a story Ingham County is seeing all too often.

In 2015, 50 people died of opioid-related deaths.

"Going into the bathroom and helping themselves to the supplies out of the medicine cabinet," Chief John Stressman of the Mason-Capital Area Prescription Drug Task Force explained. "The ease of opportunity, socialization around the abuse network at a younger age, is probably a real significant factor."

Prescription pills are just the start. Police tells us the addiction turns into a needle of heroin in your arm - because it's cheaper and more accessible.

"Just on average, you can get a bindle of heroin here in the Lansing-metro area for approximately $10 to $20, where if you were to get a prescription pill on the street that can range anywhere from $50 to $80 on the street," Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski said.

In Lansing, 138 people overdosed in 2015 and 26 people died from the drug.

"26 fatalities," Chief Yankowski said. "That is more fatalities than homicides or fatal car accidents in the City of Lansing. That's a significant number and it's a growing number."

That Lick hopes will be stopped with the help of a team of experts and families and educating the public.

So, no one else has to live without a mom or brother or daughter.

Lick said when using prescription pills keep them locked up and don't share them.

That's just one of many ways you can help stop the problem before it starts.

The county's Opioid Work Group said the community's help is crucial.

In 2015, first response teams in Lansing pushed 295 doses of Narcan into nearly 230 patients.

"People shouldn't look at Narcan as a solution or a cure all. It's not. It's a life saving tool in our tool box to help us buy that person time," Lansing Fire's EMS Captain, Teresa Robinson, explained. "We made it there this time, in time to save their lives, next time we might not."

So, the group is trying to catch the problem before it starts by focusing on educating the public on the signs of addiction.

Phil Pavona of Families Against Narcotics explained, "Often not going to school, getting bad grades, those are all indicative that something's wrong in your kids life. Thats number 1."

Number two - have a conversation about the drug. And, three - look out for drug paraphernalia.

Pavona lost his son in 2011 to a heroin overdose, but had no idea about the addiction.

"We as parents were very naive and stupid, which is, again, why suburban parents and kids are often targeted because they are pretty naive and stupid when to comes to this stuff," Pavona explained.

Now, by putting a face to the addiction, Pavona is hoping to change the stigma and the support system.

So, he joined the Ingham Opioid Work Group, along with people like Judge Donald Allen of the 55th District, who is trying to focus on treatment, rather than throwing addicts behind bars.

"Sobriety court is an intensive form of supervision in which we put people that are repeat offenders through some paces in terms of making sure that we're trying to address the underlying issue," Judge Allen explained.

And, so far it's been successful. 454 people have graduated and only 9% have been convicted again.

Just one approach of many in the effort to end the deadly heroin epidemic.

Chief Yankowski told us he supports the judge's efforts and if someone comes to LPD, they're going to try to get them help instead of a conviction.