Managing pain is an important part of medical care, and prescription medications for pain, including opiates, have helped many individuals facing difficult illnesses and conditions. Unfortunately, numerous factors—over prescription of pain medications, a lack of awareness of the addictive properties of opioids, and declining employment options or hope for the future—have contributed towards greater abuse of these prescription medications in recent years, even among children.
Today, this growing misuse of pain medications has turned into a devastating opioid crisis. For this crisis to reach each one of us through a family member, friend, or acquaintance is not uncommon. In 2016, almost 1,700 Michiganders died from opioid overdoses, over seventeen times the number recorded in 1999. Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) issued a FOCUS publication in May on the topic, offering information about the scope of the state's problem, the Catholic Church's response, and how to support those with substance abuse issues (https://goo.gl/5sr8WW).
During the 2017–2018 legislative session, state lawmakers continue to discuss policies to curb unnecessary or excessive opioid use. In September, MCC sent a letter thanking lawmakers for their consideration of this matter and urged continued action. As 2017 ended, several measures were signed into state law, including many recommendations from the Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force. These measures address prescriber practices, awareness, and addiction treatment.
For example, Senate Bills 166–167 require licensed prescribers to review a patient's report in the Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS) before prescribing a controlled substance. MAPS tracks a patient's prescription history so medical professionals can prevent "doctor shopping" for pills and assess patient risk for abuse before recommending additional medicine. Similarly, Senate Bill 270 requires prescribers to have a bona fide relationship with the patient before prescribing a controlled substance and to provide or refer for follow-up care, to ensure the substance's effective use. Additionally, Senate Bill 274 limits the amount of Schedule 2 controlled substances (substances with a high potential of abuse) that can be prescribed for a patient with acute pain. The bill also allows a pharmacist to fill these prescriptions in increments, so patients obtain the medicine they need, without leaving extra pills sitting around unused.
Providing education and access to quality care are also key components to stemming the ongoing opioid problem. House Bills 4406–4407 require the creation of age-appropriate instruction about the topic for schools, while Senate Bill 273 requires prescribers to provide information on substance use disorder services to patients treated for opioid-related overdose. Finally, House Bill 4403 allows Medicaid to cover detoxification for opioid use disorders, which helps those struggling with addiction receive assistance. These measures serve individuals without judgment and hopefully will prevent future suffering.
In addition to legislative action, funding is making strides. In April, the State received $16.4 million to promote prevention and increase access to treatment for opioid addiction. Michigan has been using the funds for several initiatives, including an improvement to MAPS, development of a statewide awareness campaign, and greater availability of overdose reversing drugs. The Michigan Health Endowment Fund divided $6.4 million in opioid crisis grant funding between sixteen agencies in August, including Catholic Human Services in the Diocese of Gaylord. Additional changes have also proved helpful: the Michigan State Police recently expanded its Angel Program to all its posts, providing help rather than jail time (https://goo.gl/xsCoEi). Through the program, individuals may receive a professional substance abuse assessment and intake process, with local volunteers offering transportation to treatment facilities.
Catholics have an opportunity to act, to raise awareness, and to walk alongside those who struggle with substance abuse. Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops have also outlined the need to address underlying societal problems that allow drug abuse to flourish. There is much work to be done, but as the opioid crisis has a major impact on Michigan families, it is critical to learn about available resources and how to assist those in need: https://goo.gl/etbhWz.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets. Through these columns, MCC outlines current advocacy issues of importance to the Conference and discusses the Catholic position and role in the political process. This publication complements the more regular updates provided by MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.