Opioid epidemic growing in Mid-Michigan - WNEM TV 5

Opioid epidemic growing in Mid-Michigan

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BAY COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

It's a crisis that leads its victims through a cycle of dependency and the number of lives it threatens grows every single day.

Abuse and addiction to opioids affects an estimated two million Americans.

Addiction to the drug is a continuously growing problem in Mid-Michigan.

Genesee and Shiawassee counties remain among the highest for opioid related deaths.

Bay County has seen the highest increase in prescriptions, up 50 percent since 2009. The number of prescriptions written nearly outnumbers residents 2-1.

David Steele, manager of Patient Care Services at McLaren Hospital in Bay City, is responsible for telling someone their loved one has died.

"Never gets any easier," Steele said.

It is a difficult duty he has to perform more often thanks to opioids.

He said a high school student had her life with her family cut short.

"Tried it once and got hooked. And hid the problem for a while. And ultimately they came in and again pushed herself to the edge and they lost her," Steele said.

Opioid deaths have steadily increased in Bay County. The number of lives lost nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015. There have been 92 deaths since 1999.

In 2016 there were 19,365 opioid prescriptions written for every 10,000 people in Bay County. That was up 50 percent since 2009.

Law enforcement officials said inmates at the jail have said to them if they need to find drugs all they have to do is walk a short distance in any direction.

"They said if they got out they could walk to houses that are within walking distance from here and pick it up. It's all over. It really is," Bay County Sheriff Troy Cunningham said.

Cunningham said his department has won some battles, but is losing the war on opioids.

"It's been real hard to try to combat it because we're looking for small amounts in vehicles. It's not like we have a known supply area where it's getting manufactured right here. We know it's coming in from other countries," Cunningham said.

Cunningham and Steele both said Narcan, a drug designed to bring people back from overdose, is used often. It's in an effort to save lives and find a way out of the opioid epidemic.

"You got to get somebody breathing to get them the help that they need," Steele said.

Joel Strasz, health officer for the Bay County Health Department, has seen a lot when it comes to opioid addiction in Bay County.

"Where there is addiction there's demand. And when there's demand you're going to see supply," Strasz said.

He said the opioid problem is not a by-product of drugs being imported into our communities.

"I guess I-75 could be a factor in that, but they often find a way to enter into a community regardless of the local transportation system," Strasz said.

He said a lot of residents are addicted to opioids because of their time using legally prescribed pain killers.

Strasz said the health department is working with law enforcement and hospitals to try and save lives.

The agency has also created the Bay County Prevention Network to educate people and their families about addiction.

Strasz said there's no easy way out of the epidemic, but giving up is not an option.

"It might take several attempts. You know, there's no easy and no sure way to get people to overcome their addiction. But it's a necessary thing. We're talking about the lives of people here," Strasz said.

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