Healthcare providers seeking solution to opioid epidemic

Every day, the powerfully addictive drugs come out of hospitals such as Henry Ford Allegiance in Jackson.

President Donald Trump's drug czar nominee withdrew his name for consideration after reports that U.S. Rep. Tom Marino sponsored legislation that hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration's fight against the opioid crisis.

Earlier this week, President Trump vowed to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency.

Many health care providers said more needs to be done on the national level to combat the opioid epidemic that kills dozens of Americans each day.

Of the more than 200 patients Dr. Rami Khoury's emergency room sees each day, many are overdosing on heroin and prescription drugs.

When the opioid epidemic came to Dr. Khoury's attention, he began working to change the culture of prescribing powerful painkillers to patients.

"We don't want to give them an opiate unless they have something actually going on like a broken leg or appendicitis or a big abscess because it's not necessary," Dr. Khoury, an M.D. at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, said.

Hospitals like Henry Ford Allegiance have launched prescription guidelines to mitigate opioid abuse.

Doctors there are now assessing patient's pain and addiction risk.

"And that decreased the amount of opioids we were writing out of the Emergency Department," Dr. Khoury said. "We saw a spike in heroin in 2010 here [Jackson, Michigan] before it hit the rest of the state."

"What was the cause?" political reporter Nick Minock asked.

"Decrease number of pills out on the street. The prices went up and heroin was cheaper," Dr. Khoury said.

"Easy to get?" Minock asked.

"Easier to get." Dr. Khoury replied.

"Do you think healthcare providers have been a problem in the past when we look at our current [opioid] epidemic?" Minock asked.

"We didn't know. We weren't given correct information," Dr. Khoury said. "We didn't know."

Mike Hirst doesn't blame the doctors.

"The doctors get all their information from the pharmaceutical companies, and they sold this bill of goods that wasn't true," Hirst said.

Hirst's son, Andy, lost his life seven years ago after overdosing on heroin.

Andy began his addiction on prescription drugs. His father watched the life leave his body at a construction site.

"That's something I would never want to see any parent go through and see any young man like my son go through," Hirst said. "So that's why I fight."

Hirst is working with Gov. Rick Snyder's office to build a public private partnership to open four rehabilitation facilities in Michigan. He is also working with healthcare providers to de-stigmatize opioid abuse and encourage people to get help.

Hirst said he speaks with parents every week who learn their children are hooked on heroin or prescriptions drugs.

Dr. Khoury said it is important for parents to look out for the warning signs and dispose of their unused prescription drugs.

The Michigan physician said recent studies show people who use opioids long term typically get their first medication from a friend or a family member.

"Very small percentage actually got them from a doctor, less than 10%," Dr. Khoury said. "There is this misconception that if a doctor wrote it, it must be safe and that's not necessarily the case. What I write for you would not be something I would write for your mom because you are two different people."

Dr. Khoury adds 20 percent of people will likely use opioids a year out - appropriately or inappropriate - if they are written a ten day to two week prescription,

"What's interesting is prescriptions, if you start using prescriptions regularly, prescription opioids, to go to heroin it's 46 percent higher than is would be for alcohol. So that is clearly the gateway drug for heroin," Dr. Khoury said.

Right now Michigan lawmakers are continuing to discuss ways to address the opioid crisis.

The State Senate and State House have two packages of bills that aim to address the epidemic. Both packages of bills are being discussed in legislative committees.

Last week, an amendment that would start a new program to research genetic markers of opioid addiction passed the State House.

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