DETROIT, Mich. — Combining private and public dollars, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer launched a new initiative to combat the same growing opioid crisis in the state that’s plaguing the country and killing thousands of Americans every year.
The collaborative program, dubbed the Michigan Opioid Partnership, aims to remove barriers to those people who need to enter an opioid treatment program and find a path to success, Whitmer said Monday afternoon during a news conference on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit.
“This is not an epidemic that is constrained by race, or geography or socioeconomic status or, age for that matter, and that’s why it was important that we build a partnership like this,” Whitmer said. “This is a lot compared to what we have been doing. This is not something that the state alone can tackle.”
Opioid-related overdose deaths have more than tripled since 2011, with 2,053 opioid overdoses in 2017, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Two hospital systems in Michigan received grants to pilot the programs – Beaumont Hospital in southeast Michigan and Munson Medical Center in the northern Lower Peninsula. In total, the grants are more than $1.3 million.
Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer for Munson Health Care, said the hospital system has locations in rural parts of Michigan, which are typically places with scattered resources. The grant program will help bring resources together and therefore, increase the chance of success for a person, she said.
“It’s not just the hospitals, it’s not just the providers; it’s also the administration, it’s also our legal team, it’s the community, it’s a lot of the efforts that are going to be brought together so that we can not only prevent access to opioids but once that addiction takes place and that substance abuse disorder has developed, we can manage and treat and then get those people on the road to recovery with a community to support them,” Nefcy said. “Because it’s a long-term effort, not just a short-term fix when you’re in a hospital.”
The collaborative approach will make funds available to support the use of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, from the first point of contact in a hospital or emergency room to continued treatment in a community-based program.
“Usually a patient comes in by ambulance, often unresponsive of an overdose and often, despite our best efforts, people die,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, DHHS chief medical executive, said. “but if we can get to them quickly enough, we give them a lifesaving medication called Naloxone, and usually what we do in the ER is we watch them for a few hours. We send them home with the same usual stack of difficult to understand discharge instructions, no medication, no treatment, no appointment to see someone who can help them. This is unacceptable. We don’t send someone home after a heart attack and not set them up with a cardiologist.”
In addition to the medication system in hospitals, the program will assist jails using a continuity-of-care approach focused on long-term treatment of opioid disorder using $1.5 million in funds. The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University will get the grant to coordinate the efforts. County jails will be selected for funding to work in partnership with the university team to serve inmates with addiction.
The program will last 16-months and will work like an extension of the current program in place, explained Sheryl Kubiac, the dean of Wayne State University’s School of Social Work and Director of the Center for Behavioral Health.
Kubiac said the program was already involved in 16 counties with jail administrators and community stakeholders.
“We’re going to act as sort of the glue, or the external facilitators to go into the counties and get folks to talk to each other,” she said. “Inside the jails we are going to lead them through a needs assessment. Each one of the county jails that works with use will get approximately $250,000 to be able to apply to an area of need.”
Kubiac said working with addicts in jail is different than when someone is in the emergency department at a hospital; in jail, a person is forced to look at the problem and can’t hide from it.
“You don’t get the hospital ER where they come in and go out. People usually go in jail are usually there for a few days so you get a chance to really engage them, or begin the process of engagement and that’s really important when someone is addicted – you need that time to really engage them,” she said. “The medications do a start to get people paying attention and stabilize, but then what we have to do is try and figure out why they were using and try to fix what’s happening emotionally or psychologically.”
The partnership for the program is made up of DHHS, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, the Jewish Fund, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and the Superior Health Foundation.
“It’s inhumane not give people the support that they so desperately need,” Whitmer said.
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