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Categorized | Voices and Views

Bill Schuette: Treat, don’t punish, causes of opioid addiction


In 2015, we lost 963 Michigan residents to car accidents. And we lost 1,981 to overdoses.

Heroin is available in every town in Michigan and can be purchased for less than the price of a few snacks at the gas station.

I’ve sat down with the victims in this crisis. I’ve looked them in the eye and heard their stories. I’ve heard the pain in their voices and recognized their guilty and broken spirits. For many in the grips of this addiction, it’s not even about feeling good anymore, it’s about not feeling bad.

What will it take for us to provide help, and not punishment, for those struggling with addiction? Our children are dying and government isn’t paying enough attention to what really needs to be done.

We need an attack from all angles.

In April, the State of Michigan received $16 million from the Trump administration to combat opioid addiction. Eighty-percent of the funds will go toward treatment, and 20% will go toward preventative measures. I have also asked the Legislature to direct the nearly $1 million from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company I recently negotiated to proven high-quality education and awareness programs about opioid addiction.

These dollars need to go toward:

A multi-faceted public awareness campaign: We can’t stop addiction just through treatment, we need education programs in place from elementary school to high school and in our health care facilities to make sure that there is no question on how damaging opioids are to the human body and mind.

Resources for addicts and families: Michigan has a piecemeal approach that spans across various state departments and doesn’t give those struggling or their families a central place to turn for help and resources. This doesn’t work. The State of Michigan needs a resource for families on how to get help for addiction available 24-7 online and by phone with a toll-free 1-800 number.

Aggressive law enforcement efforts: I announced this week that my new Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit, designed to catch those moving heroin and other opioid-based drugs across our state, is up and running. My team is working with local, state and federal law enforcement to go after both the heroin traffickers and the overprescribing doctors that are flooding our cities and towns with readily available, deadly drugs.

This isn’t about catching those with a single dose of heroin struggling in the grips of addiction, it’s about getting the high-dollar distributor that supplies hundreds of people with a quick and potentially deadly high.

Strong treatment plans: We need to combat opioid addiction with intensive inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that follow regimented and proven techniques to rid a person of addiction.

Sending addicts to jail without a program to help them overcome their addiction doesn’t end the cycle, it makes the pull that much stronger when they leave. Whether it’s the proven results of Narcotics Anonymous, or another recognized program, we need to refocus our efforts to reach those incarcerated to make sure they can re-enter our communities without their addiction and with a plan for the future.

We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We need to take a hard, but compassionate look at what we are doing to prevent and treat addiction before it can hurt more of us.

Bill Schuette is attorney general of Michigan.

This column originally ran in the Detroit Free Press on June 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission. http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/06/02/bill-schuette-treat-dont-punish-causes-opioid-addiction/363204001/

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