On Tuesday, Feb. 4, a Genesee County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) deputy was on his way to a call, but was diverted to an opioid overdose in Fenton Township.
“The opioid crisis we’re dealing with has not stopped,” said
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson in a recent news conference.
The opioid epidemic hasn’t ended, though it may not always grab headlines. The good news is that numbers seem to be trending downward in many areas. In recent years, fentanyl has replaced many other opioids like oxycodone, or even heroin.
Swanson said fentanyl is popular because it’s available domestically. It’s dangerous because it’s being mixed with heroin. Users are overdosing because of irregular mixes. He said more than 90 percent of the opioid deaths in Genesee County are straight fentanyl.
He said in the course of three days, his paramedics responded to five heroin and fentanyl calls.
STAT EMS Chief of Operations Joe Karlichek said that in 2019, his company responded to 156 overdose calls. Based on the frequency of Narcan use, most of those calls were opioid related. Narcan is the prescribed emergency revival drug to counter the effects of opioids. It’s delivered via vapor in the nostrils.
“I think the word ‘epidemic’ is most appropriate,” he said. Karlichek said in his experience there are always overdoses to attend to, but things can be improved with more education, enforcement and support for those who are addicted or helping the addicted.
So far, 2020 has yielded fewer overdose calls than 2019. This could be due to higher regulation and monitoring of the drug. Still, he said the addicted will find a way to get their hands on opioids.
“It’s a serious issue,” he said. “We still need to keep our foot on the gas so to speak.”
Historically, the city of Fenton had approximately 70 arrests for controlled substances annually. In 2019, it was 23. Lt. Jeff Cross said these numbers also included arrests for marijuana, which became legal in 2019. “Over the past five years, the numbers have steadily dropped,” Cross said. “Some of that may be in part due to the reduction in opioid prescriptions. There is still an opioid epidemic.”
Getting life-saving help
By Hannah Ball
The availability of Narcan (generic: noloxone) has increased. The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities hosts recovery support groups for drug recovery, pain management and Narcan training in Oakland County. Everyone over the age of 18 receives a Save A Life kit, which includes two doses of 4 mg of Nasal Narcan.
Swanson, Karlichek and others are urging anyone who can to be trained in Narcan use.
Holly Police Chief Jerry Narsh said having Narcan available to the public is a huge factor.
“When I do opioid presentations, I remind the audience that the true ‘first’ responders during an overdose are the family members and friends of the person overdosing. We are in fact, second responders. When minutes matter, it is vital to have Narcan deployed as fast as possible,” he said. “If it’s okay for police and fire to use this, then it should be available for all to use it. After all, if the point is to save a life, then it shouldn’t matter who is most available to deploy it.”
Argentine Township Police Chief Dan Allen said the crisis is getting better in part because people who need help can join the Hope not Handcuffs program. This initiative allows people struggling with drug addiction to go to police and ask for help. Instead of being arrested, they are taken to rehab. Allen said this helps people to break the cycle of addiction.
In 2017, Argentine police reported 15 overdoses, with four resulting in death. In 2018, there were 10 overdoses and two deaths. In 2019, it dropped to two overdoses and zero deaths.
“The opioid crisis remains a constant situation that law enforcement is dealing with,” he said.
The Holly Police Department also participates in the Hope not Handcuffs program.