2017-11-02 / Front Page

County already on drug epidemic

Part of ‘17 goals
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Although President Donald Trump last week formally declared opioid addiction a public health emergency, officials in Leelanau County have known for quite some time about the growing problem.

In fact, commissioners have already taken a preliminary step toward trying to do something about it.

Earlier this year, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners set as a goal for 2017 the establishment of a substance abuse and opioid addiction task force. A committee of county officials has been meeting for the past two months to organize an “opioid summit” that may be held in the months ahead.

On Saturday, the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office participated in a “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day,” when everybody was encouraged to turn in their unused or expired medication for safe disposal.

In fact, the Sheriff’s Office makes a “prescription pill drop box” available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the lobby of the county Law Enforcement Center. On Saturday, Undersheriff Steve Morgan personally processed much of the haul, which will be turned over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for disposal.

Undersheriff Morgan said some 103 pounds of pills had been collected. If you multiply that by the average of 1,024 pills per pound, he said, the total equates to 105,472 pills out of circulation and unavailable to people they were not intended for.

“Not all the prescription drugs we receive are dangerous,” Undersheriff Morgan explained, “but we do know that some of the pills we receive are opioids and other painkillers that are very dangerous and must be closely regulated — and it’s especially good to keep those off the street.”

Jim Reardon is the emergency preparedness coordinator and public information officer for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department. He said that while no additional state or federal funding has been made available or promised since the declaration of a national “public health emergency” last week, state and local officials are already working on the opioid crisis and other substance abuse problems.

“The opioid issue has become a public health priority because of the increasing number of people using the drugs, including the increased numbers of babies born addicted, increasing crime in some parts of the state and increased impacts on related economic issues such as job loss,” Reardon said.

Reardon said the health department and other local agencies are hailing an effort by Leelanau County and other local governments to shed more light on the issue and keep the relevant agencies and organizations engaged in working together toward a solution.

Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik said a committee of public officials has met twice so far, on Sept. 28 and Oct. 18, to organize a “substance abuse summit” later this year that will focus on the opioid epidemic and other substance abuse problems, and how they are affecting Leelanau County.

The organizing committee so far has included Janik, District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Rushton, District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell, Leelanau County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Hubbell, and Victims Advocate Laurie LaCross. Officials associated with many other public and private agencies in Leelanau County and beyond have been included in correspondence generated about the summit so far.

Janik said the group has been gathering more information and has reviewed what has been successful in other counties that have also taken on the challenge of confronting the opioid crisis and substance abuse in general. The group has determined that a proposed structure for a task force would include representatives of law enforcement, the medical community, the treatment and recovery community, and affected families.

He said plans are in place to submit a request for “2-percent” casino revenue funding from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to help underwrite the cost of a summit and educational programming that would follow. Janik said members of the full committee will be asked to meet again sometime later this month on a date to be announced.

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