KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — In a comprehensive report from the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department, statistics reflect a three-year jump in fentanyl-related deaths and a higher rate of opioid prescriptions per capita than the national average within the county.
In the report released Monday, the three-year analysis took data from 2015 to 2017 and considered opioid prescribing rates, emergency visits for opioid overdoses and other opioid-related deaths reported from the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner. In one of the more alarming statistics, the report said fentanyl-related deaths increased from six in 2015 to 35 in 2017. Three of the deaths in 2015 and 26 in 2017 were reportedly Kalamazoo County residents.
According to the department, fentanyl is a "very powerful opioid that can be prescribed by a healthcare professional or produced illegally." The illegally produced drug, the department said, is currently the leading factor in the opioid overdose epidemic.
In addition, the department reports the county dispensed 63.3 opioid prescription per 100 persons in 2017, which is a tick above the national average which stands at 58.7 per 100 persons. The department's report also reflected a 22.6 percent decrease in the amount and strength of opioids prescribed from 2015 to 2017.
In terms of emergency department visits regarding opioid overdoses, the county's report said visits have increased and peaked at 350 visits in 2016, which meant departments were dealing with an average of one opioid overdose patient per day. Additionally, heroin overdose visits tripled among men from 48 total visits in 2015 to 148 in 2017; women more than doubled with 18 total visits in 2015 to 52 in 2017.
“Prioritizing treatment for opioid addiction is essential to reversing the tide of opioid-related deaths,” Dr. William Nettleton, medical director of the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department, said in a statement. “Addiction is not a moral defect. It is a long-term, relapsing and all too often deadly disease of the brain that affects not only the lives of addicted individuals, but their families and relationships as well.”
Kalamazoo County's crude total of opioid-related deaths for 2017 of 16.7 deaths per 100,000 residents is below the state average, which ranks at 19.1 per 100,000 residents.
The county urges residents to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose, which include extreme sleepiness, slow or absent breathing, small eye pupils and skin turning the color blue. Given you recognize an overdose, call 911 immediately.
The county also wants to make residents aware that naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is available and covered through Medicaid and many other insurance agencies. Several pharmacies across the state also provide the drug, and kits can be found though the Southwest Michgian Chapter of Families Against Narcotics (FAN) by calling 269-580-8290.