Throughout the 2016 year, you've heard the staggering reports on heroin and opioid overdoses and deaths. Washtenaw County is no exception. Here's a look back, and look ahead, at dealing with the problem here at home.
The bad news is before it gets better, the problem is likely to get worse. Adreanne Walker is a Washtenaw County Public Health department epidemiologist.
"Our opioid-related overdoses and death rates have increased. We've already exceeded 2015 deaths for the whole year."
In looking back to the 2015 year statistics, we find that 49 people died in Washtenaw County from opioid-related causes. 52 deaths have been reported for 2016. But, the statistical data that gives us that information has only been calculated through the month of October. That means when the final tally is in for 2016, it will have been a much worse year.
Waller says it's just as troubling to learn what portion of our community is being most dramatically affected by heroin and opioid abuse.
"We also are seeing a decrease in the average age of overdose, as well as a significant decrease in age of overdose death."
Why is that the problem is growing despite an increased community focus on the issue? Waller says much of it can be attributed to the drug Fentanyl.
"Fentanyl is particularly lethal. It also enables the user to develop a tolerance much quicker. Those folks are more likely to then use more drugs more often."
With the problem growing in severity, Waller says efforts to help those in need address their addictions need to be intensified.
"One of the things that is really needed in our community is a very intensive, community-wide campaign to raise awareness about the risk factors, the signs, and the symptoms of opioid addiction, as well as the extent of the epidemic."
Waller says part of the responsibility and part of the solution has to come from the medical community. She says reducing the number of doctor-prescribed opioids will help lower the number of people addicted to prescription drugs. That is typically the gateway, as addicts find it much cheaper to get the same effects by purchasing heroin out on the streets.
While working to lower the addiction and overdose rates, Waller says it is helpful to make the anti-overdose drug Naloxone to help save lives.