By Seth Betman

The opioid epidemic is no joke. It has only enhanced over the last decade and has become a prime topic in the war on drugs. Such a broad issue, with issues in the process of distributing pharmaceuticals as well as drug addiction to street drugs such as heroin, must be tackled in the right way.  While law enforcement on the local level may have their own initiatives on the issue, legislation on the state level is essential for change. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder took a step forward in 2015, calling for a plan to combat prescription drug and opioid abuse. Forming the “Michigan Prescription Drug & Opioid Abuse Task Force” in June of 2015, Gov. Snyder made strides towards eliminating the issue, while more measures can be taken to contribute to the goal.

The task force started off strong in the 2016 term. Representative Anthony Forlini sponsored House Bill 5326, allowing opioid antagonists, or drugs that act on opioid receptors to simulate use, to be in possession without a prescription in case of an overdose.  More initiative was shown through Senate Bills 805 and 806, sponsored by state Sen. Jim Ananich and Sen. Dale Zorn. These bills increasingly allows schools to have opioid antagonists on hand in case of an overdose.

Legislation, as seen above, was created following an intensive report published by the “Michigan Prescription Drug & Opioid Abuse Task Force.” The report proposed to eliminate civil and criminal liabilities for those obtaining Naloxone. Naloxone, known as the “save me drug,” gives the overdose victim the ability to breathe, combatting a side effect of an opioid overdose. Administering the drug doesn’t guarantee a full recovery from the episode but heightens survival chances. This idea proposed by the task force brings light to a major issue, as possessing naloxone without a prescription is still a crime in the majority of states of the country.

Another issue with the system is the way the needed prescriptions containing opioids or to combat opioids are distributed through the pharmacy. Many patients with past prescriptions or general addicts will abuse the policies, and the existing system did not hold prescribers accountable for their work. The prior database only required those dispensing controlled substances to register rather than those who prescribe too, leaving a gray area for false prescriptions. Updates to the system known as MAPS (Michigan Automated Prescription System) was a portion of the task force’s initiative. Their recommendations included prescribers registering within it, and more access for law enforcement to it to investigate prescribers with questionable practices.

I would like to make a proposal in regards the opioid antagonist, Naloxone. With its known success in the opioid community, it is essential we make way for its accessible use in future legislation. While current bills make it easier to obtain Naloxone and not get in legal trouble, another step to combating opioid abuse is making it mandatory for all first responders to carry Naloxone on their persons. While many EMS personnel already carry Naloxone into their ambulances, passing legislation of this type would ensure police officers always have it, because police are often the first on the scene. This would contribute to the efforts already being proposed by the Michigan legislature.

As the war on drugs continues, work to eliminate the opioid epidemic in Michigan progresses with it. With multiple pieces of legislation moving through the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate regarding the issue at hand, more can be done to improve the efforts in the future.