Opioid Crisis Discussed at Building a Better Community Session

This past Sunday, Lowell United Methodist Church hosted a second session in their Building a Better Community series of events.  They plan on hosting events, which touch on relevant topics in the Lowell community, at least twice a year.

Building Blocks
In January of this year, the first Building a Better Community event took place.  Lowell’s First Look broke the event into two sections. The first part can be read here and the second part can be read here.  The focus of the first meeting was to discuss affordable economics, housing, education.  

The second in the ongoing series of events focused on understanding the opioid crisis.  A dependence and addiction to opioids is a growing problem across the nation. But it’s not just something happening elsewhere.  It’s here. It’s in Kent County. It’s in Lowell.

Opening Presentation
Opioid medications are typically prescribed for pain, with most falling under the controlled substance category.  Dr. Cara Poland focuses on addiction medicine with Spectrum Health. She works with patients who have become addicted to medication.  She started off the event sharing slides explaining addiction and why she sees it as a disease, like diabetes, cancer, heart issues, etc.  According to Poland, addiction changes things within the brain. And there are different reasons for addiction with some people being more at risk than others.  

Poland used an example of reactions from seeing a carrot versus an ice cream sundae.  Most people know carrots are better for you. But the response to an ice cream sundae elicits pleasure.  It makes a majority of people happy. Those who are lactose intolerant will look at a sundae and think it’s good, but know the adverse reaction may not be worth consumption.  This example was likened to someone addicted to opioids. Poland explained how even those who are addicted and are trying to battle the problem often can’t get passed the feeling that drugs will provide pleasure.  It’s often a subconscious reaction. Those with an addiction need a substance to feel normal.

Slides were shared showing how different parts of the brain react to things and how these facets interact with each other.  The frontal cortex in the brain acts as the CEO, telling other parts of the brain right from wrong and ultimately makes all of the decisions, whether they’re in the best interest of the person or not.  This part of the brain isn’t fully developed until the late 20s. Therefore, the conclusion is children and young adults are more prone to making somewhat uninformed decisions because their brain is not yet fully developed, meaning educating this group about opioid addiction is important.  Poland stated that every 2.7 days someone in Kent County dies from an opioid overdose.

Poland continued to say federal laws and regulations could help prevent a misuse of opioids.  She feels those in the medical field should look more closely at prescribing medications which aren’t habit forming as a first line of defense against pain.  But she also stated many doctors are given ratings by patients, which correlate in part to how much money they receive, on how well pain is treated during an office or hospital visit.  This does not incentivize prescribing fewer opioids.

Amanda Tarantowski, Dr. Cara Poland, Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger, and Officer Dustin Brown (l to r) speak as part of the panel.

Other Points of View
Following the presentation by Dr. Poland, three individuals were introduced and provided a short background on their role in the opioid epidemic.  Amanda Tarantowski LMSW Contract Manager in the Substance Use Disorder Division for Network 180 spoke of education, prevention, and how to get help with an addiction.  Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger Chief Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit, serving Ionia and Montcalm Counties, is the President of the Ionia chapter of Families Against Narcotics (FAN).  She also presides over the 8th Circuit Court Adult Drug Treatment courts in counties where she presides.  And Officer Dustin Brown of the Lowell Police Department was part of the panel to share experiences from a law enforcement standpoint.      

As a social worker, Tarantowski also sees the opioid addiction as a public health crisis.  Network 180 is open 24 hours a day seven days a week offering assessments and referrals. It is suggested that anyone coming in for an assessment bring someone to be part of a support system through the process.  Tarantowski indicated deaths from opioid overdose doubled from 2016 to 2017.

A therapeutic and mental intervention is typically used when treating addiction.  Patients are often weaned off drugs rather than quitting “cold turkey”. A treatment plan is developed with a focus on the individual and how that person will be react.  Some people thrive in group treatment while others would rather work alone.

Tarantowski also touched on preventing addiction.  She feels prevention should focus on educating youth about the dangers of addictive medications and prescribers should be trained on addictive factors as well.  She mentioned a “multi-pronged strategy” including physicians, legislators and educators. She feels resources should be available for teachers faced with children who live in a home where an addiction is taking place so they can look for signs and know how to help.  Community outreach is also important in educating and preventing addiction issues.

Judge Kreeger works in the courts with those who have addictions and have found themselves in the judicial system.  Through a drug court, those recovering from addictions are tried differently compared to regular court. There is a bit of leniency should a relapse occur, but individuals seen in this court are still responsible for their actions.  As the President of the Ionia chapter of FAN, Kreeger also works with families who have a loved one with substance disorders. Those dealing with grief or loss can seek support through this group.

Finally, Officer Brown provided a look into the enforcement part of drug addiction.  He has gone through special training called Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) in order to help observe and identify signs of impairment related to drugs and drugs when combined with alcohol.  Currently, there is no roadside test to indicate whether a person has too much of some kind of drug in his or her system. And it’s becoming harder to enforce drug violations, especially without additional training.  

Brown mentioned many who have an opioid addiction turn to larceny, whether it’s to obtain needed items or get something to sell in order to purchase more drugs.  It’s easy for an addiction to turn into other law-breaking behavior. He also indicated police are at risk for exposure when dealing with individuals with an addiction.  He stated there have been multiple deaths in Lowell related to opioid overdose. He himself has had to administer narcan, a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose to allow for paramedics to arrive.  In his experience it has not always worked to save a life.

Prevention Steps
The panel also took time to answer a few questions from the audience, including thoughts on legalizing marijuana and how to dispose of medications.

One way to help prevent opioids getting into the hands of someone wanting to try them or who already has an addiction is to discard of old medications.  The Lowell Police Department is a site where unused prescription drugs can be dropped off. On Oct. 27 there is also a community collection day in Grand Rapids.  

Encouraging someone with an addiction to seek help is another way to help save a life.  The person who is addicted is at risk for overdose but can also put the lives of others in danger.  Help is available without judgement. Network 180 is a resource for those struggling with substance abuse disorder, mental illness, and those living with a developmental disability.

Lowell United Methodist Church plans on continuing to provide education, discussion, and information on topics which are important to the Lowell community.  Their event on Sunday was attended by approximately 50 people. After the hour and a half long session, panelists remained to talk and answer questions.

1 Comment

  1. The book “Dopesick: dealers,doctors and the drug company that addicted America” Is a very enlightening read on the opioid epidemic in America.

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