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Opioid Summit Held In Washtenaw County

The Washtenaw Health Initiative Opioid Project hosted a summit Monday night to address the growing opioid crisis in our area.  Over 100 people attended the summit at the Lawrence Morris Building at Washtenaw Community College.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan was there and has the story.

"In 2004, I had an emergency appendectomy, and that was my first exposure to opioid-based painkillers. And, from there, it was downhill from there for quite some time."

33 year-old Ashton Marr from Ypsilanti was among the featured speakers who took part in the summit.  She's been in recovery for over five years.  Marr says, to this day, she still doesn't really know why she suddenly decided to stop using opioids one day.  We chatted about her decision.  

JORGE: "How essential is it to have those services available when you call--when you make that call? When you actually got the courage to call and say 'You know what? I need help'? How important is it to pick up the phone on the other end and say 'I'm here to help you.'?"
ASHTON: "I would say it's very important to engage folks who are struggling with addiction in some way when they're ready. So we have peer services available to them, so they can talk to somebody's who's been through it before. Getting them into treatment, getting them into detox, I would say it's critical."

55 residents in Washtenaw County died of opioid related overdoses between January and August of 2018.  That's a 33% increase from last year during that same period.  Adreanne Waller is an epidemiologist for the Washtenaw County Health Department.  She explains why the opioid crisis continues to grow.

"...changes in how health care is delivered. We now do surgeries outpatient rather than inpatient, so more opiates are in the community. Physicians have been prescribing more opiates. We also know that chronic disease or blue-collar work that maybe results in injuries more often. We know that people who are disabled and who are on Medicaid are much more likely to receive an opiate prescription."

Washtenaw County Deputy Health Officer Jimena Loveluck says hosting an opioid summit to discuss the crisis is part of the process of addressing the issue.  She mentions other steps the county plans to take.

"Certainly, the access to substance use disorder treatment continues to be a challenge in our community. So, everything we can do to expand capacity and resources to provide treatment services to people who are in need, as well as expanding medically assisted treatment among providers. Those are things that we've talked about."

21 year-old Maadhuri Srinivasan attended the summit because some of her friends have suffered with opioid addiction, and she wants to know why this is affecting so many people.

"I think it's good to spread awareness about it, to be in the moment with what is going on in our society. And I think that this is going to be a problem that doesn't just go away on its own. I think that we are gonna really learn more about it."

Others who were present had mixed feelings about the summit.

"The opioid crisis is a super-important issue on the table right now, but I feel those of us suffering from chronic pain who do need pain medications are completely forgotten in the mix, and that's such a scary thing."

That's a Washtenaw County resident who does not want to be identified.  She says her doctors now take extra precautions when prescribing opioids for her neck injury. 

"And, in this past year, my meds have been cut down to one-quarter of what they have been in the past, and I'm no longer a functioning human. I spend several days a month in bed, missing out on my life, and it's just really difficult."

For those who are suffering from an opioid addiction, recovering addict Ashton Marr has a message for them.

"Sometimes, it's a rocky road to recovery, and it can seem very daunting, and it can seem very scary. What I would say is, as long as we're still breathing, there's always help and hope available to us. There are people out there who care, there are organizations out there who care, and, you know, please just hang in there."

To help save lives, the county is offering training to the public on how to properly administer Naloxone.  That's medication designed to reverse an opioid overdose.  For information on Naloxone training, click here

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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