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Addressing the Heroin Epidemic in Michigan

Addiction experts say curbing Michigan's heroin epidemic will require multi-systemic solutions, including helping those in recovery become integrated into their community. Credit: Partha S. Sahana/Flickr.
Addiction experts say curbing Michigan's heroin epidemic will require multi-systemic solutions, including helping those in recovery become integrated into their community. Credit: Partha S. Sahana/Flickr.
July 23, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – To combat Michigan's heroin epidemic, Governor Rick Snyder established the state's Prescription Drug and Opiate Abuse Task Force earlier this month.

Robert Lathers, CEO of Ionia County Community Mental Health, is a member of the task force, and says individuals suffering from opiate and heroin addiction need long-term recovery resources.

He adds that addiction is related to personal connections, and that social workers and community health centers help recovering addicts integrate into the community.

"It's much more likely they're going to recover if they have family, if they have relationships, if they have jobs and if they have homes," he says. "The core of social work is to help people get their basic needs met through their own resources, or to reconnect with resources they may have lost."

The number of drug overdose deaths in Michigan is estimated to have tripled since 1999. The task force is expected to make recommendations to the governor this fall.

Social worker Jason Schwartz, clinical director of Dawn Farm, an Ann Arbor treatment center, says he's seen addiction destroy lives.

"When that need isn't getting satisfied and people can't think about anything other than getting that need satisfied, it ends up crowding out employment, spirituality and family life," he says. "It consumes everything in their lives."

After a surgery, Eric of New York became addicted to painkillers and then heroin. After quitting and then relapsing, he moved to Michigan for treatment. Eric says he was finally motivated to end heroin's grip.

"I was unhappy and I wasn't really doing anything except for shooting heroin and stealing so I could get high," he says. "I hadn't really gotten in much legal trouble, but it was not the life I envisioned for myself. You know, I'm this 27-year-old with a college degree and a nice-looking resume, and absolutely nothing in my life."

Schwartz says addicts need behavioral therapies, social supports and structure to stop using.

"If addicts achieve five years of recovery, their chances of staying sober for the rest of their life is 85 percent or higher," he says. "Recovery is a real thing. It's achievable and we have a model that works, but most people don't get access to that model and that's a real problem."

Both Lathers and Schwartz are members of the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The organization is working to address addiction and other issues.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI