Police, courts, hospital, nonprofits unite in fight against drug abuse
ALPENA — Stopping addiction before it begins and rehabilitating those dependent on narcotics may help prevent widespread addiction and decrease crime and the number of health emergencies in our community, Northeast Michigan public health officials say.
That’s why local law enforcement, health care providers, and nonprofits team up to fight drug addiction by offering various programs and treatments in the region. From a place to live away from other drug users to drugs to treat overdoses to the listening ear of someone who’s battled drugs themselves, broad sectors of the community work together to help people get clean and stay clean.
Such programs are important in Northeast Michigan, where the rate of both drug-related arrests and hospitalizations for drug overdoses exceed the statewide rate, according to state data. Such statistics hurt the entire community, users and non-users alike, by dragging down the economy, endangering our neighborhoods, and raising health care costs.
Local police, court, and health officials say they can’t handle the task alone, and residents need to chip in and support those struggling with addiction.
One of the biggest ways residents can do so is to see addicts as someone battling a disease, instead of a weak or bad person, said Jill Foco, care manager and counselor at the Sunrise Centre, an Alpena rehab facility.
Foco, who overcame her own addiction to alcohol, said one of the hardest things addicts face is the stigma attached to them.
“Nobody wakes up one day and says, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to be an alcoholic or an addict,'” she said. “It doesn’t happen like that.”
The region’s health care community has many tools to fight drug use.
Most emergency first responders, for example, now carry Narcan, which treats opioid overdose. Emergency rooms also keep the drug in stock and some doctors prescribe it to users to save themselves at home.
District Health Department No. 4, which serves Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency counties, collects used needles to keep those needles from piling up around the community, where they could injure others. District Health Department No. 2, which serves Alcona County, provides clean needles to stop the spread of communicable diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis, which can spread among drug users who share needles.
MidMichigan Health, the Midland-based group that owns the Alpena hospital, has complied with state regulations, first passed in 2018, that crack down on how doctors prescribe opioids, said Marissa Palmer, the hospital group’s director of patient quality and safety.
Palmer said the hospital also developed a tool kit for primary care physicians so they can implement changes into their own practices.
One policy requires physicians to check the Michigan Automated Prescription System to make sure patients aren’t getting multiple prescriptions from several doctors. Palmer said doctors are now required to talk to patients about the dangers of opioid medications.
Though the method has its critics who say it simply trades one addiction for another, Palmer said Northeast Michigan needs more options for prescribing medications that reduce the urge to use drugs.
Doctors at Alcona Health Center and Freedom Recovery Center can prescribe such medication-assisted treatments.
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Police continue to ramp up efforts to thwart drug dealers, but police leaders say they also understand that working to prevent addiction needs to remain a high priority.
For decades, local police agencies have taken drug-prevention curriculum into schools through Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, programs.
The Michigan State Police Angel Program allows some people to ask for help with an addiction without fear of arrest, and police lobbies serve as collection sites for unused medications to keep those pills out of the wrong hands.
Programs such as the Hidden in Plain Sight traveling exhibit teach parents the signs of drug use and how to talk to their kids about drugs. The trailer is designed like a typical teenager’s bedroom, and offers parents a chance to learn to spot signs their child may be involved in illegal or unhealthy behavior.
A billboard campaign spearheaded by the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team aims to reach preteen and teenage girls to encourage them to value themselves enough that they might avoid making choices that would harm them in the future.
HUNT’s recently revamped website includes links to local resources for people struggling with addiction.
Recent efforts have supplemented the work of some longer-standing drug-fighting programs — such as Alpena’s drug court, which offers treatment in lieu of jail, the 35-bed rehabilitation facility Sunrise Centre, and support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and recovery worship services at Shoreline Wesleyan Church near downtown Alpena.
In the past two years, multiple Northeast Michigan agencies and individuals have secured grants, added staff, and embraced new approaches to support people trying to kick their addiction.
Two years ago, few people in Alpena utilized peer recovery coaches to help them fight addiction. Now, many trained coaches — themselves survivors of addiction — are embedded in multiple Alpena-area organizations to advocate for and support those with substance use disorder.
A Northeast Michigan chapter of Families Against Narcotics, which provides support and information to people with a loved one impacted by addiction, kicked off in June.
Catholic Human Services’s initiative Up North Prevention supplies police vehicles, schools, jails, and others with naloxone, a drug that can stop fatal opioid overdoses.
The Northern Michigan Opioid Response Consortium, which coordinates addiction-related health care facilities and provides training and services in 16 northern Michigan counties, installed naloxone-dispensing safety kits at three locations in Alpena last month.
Leaders of Alpena Recovery Alliance work to introduce more recovery housing, also called transitional housing or “sober living homes,” into Northeast Michigan. Many addicts struggle to stay clean because they have no place to live except with other addicts who haven’t stopped using.
James Mida, an Alpena resident still fighting addiction after 21 years in recovery, called Alpena the most welcoming recovery community he’s encountered.
“They say one person can’t make a difference,” Mida said. “But here, in this, one person can.”
News staff writer Julie Riddle contributed to this report.
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