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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Combatting the Opioid Scourge

May 19, 2017 

Fresh from the collaborative effort of our 2nd Annual Opioid Abuse and Heroin Overdose Solutions Summit, Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA) and the Greater Detroit Area Health Council has gained greater resolve and received greater support to implement proactive projects that safeguard our communities and help lessen the impact of the opioid epidemic.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley, the keynote speaker for the day addressed a 500-plus crowd. He explored the dilemma of pain-killers being diverted due to our own negligence and implored us to be more diligent about the prescriptions we get filled, what we use and what we don’t.

He made it very clear, “addiction is a health care issue- NOT a criminal justice issue.”

In 2015, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, 52,404 deaths were attributed to overdoses, close to 2,000 of those were in Michigan. Michigan ranks 10th nationally in per capita prescription rates of opioid pain relievers and 18th in the nation for all overdose deaths.

“Communities have a vital and essential role in making a difference, and prevention is going to be our best long term strategy,” said Calley. He gave us a few simple prevention assignments. First and foremost, check your medicine cabinet. According to Calley, most heroin addicts start with prescription drugs found in the home, old and unused. Safe, secure disposal of those drugs, especially opioids like Hydrocodone, is imperative.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency logged over 20,000 pounds of drugs returned in the state during the recent National Drug Take Back Day (April 29, 2017). Of that total, Michigan State Police posts took in 600 pounds of pills. According to Cathy Gallagher from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the tally of prescription pills that were collected in Southeast Michigan through the Take Back Day initiative yielded the following:

Michigan County Pounds of Rx Pills Collected
Lenawee 87
Livingston 134
Macomb 2,579
Monroe 95
Lenawee 87
Oakland 3,507
St. Clair 229
Washtenaw 268
Wayne 1,578
City of Detroit 35

The collection would have been even higher as greater education and collection boxes are made available going forward.

DWMHA understands the need to make a difference and is making sure community participation and prevention efforts are maintained and increased. We engaged community partners to set up 22 year-round Prescription Drug Take Back sites around Wayne County to safely dispose old and unwanted prescription drugs. Additionally, DWMHA just purchased and have made available 20 permanent Prescription Drug Take Back Boxes to be placed inside local police departments. These large red drop boxes are highly visible and secure. We have partnered with several Wayne County law enforcement agencies look to order more as needed.

DWMHA also provides free Deterra bags, which are drug deactivation and disposal bags that act as a counter agent to the active ingredients in the drugs, neutralize them and make them safe for disposal. The bags, about the size of a small note pad, can fit in a purse or suitcase and can deactivate about one small bottle of pills.

We look to empower each individual to play a part in this fight by providing every opportunity we can to minimize risk. That includes cleaning their medicine cabinets and taking greater responsibility for the highly volatile substances that we have in our homes.

The Lt. Governor’s charge to step up prevention efforts were also directed to providers, and healthcare professionals, as they were urged to educate their patients with more intentional dialogue about the drugs they prescribe. “Accompany the conversation with the risks of pain treatment,” suggested Calley. “Make the patients partners in managing their own pain.”

Being deliberate and direct with individuals about the risks can help them understand how dangerous pain killers can be and may help eliminate careless behavior.

Lt. Governor Calley passionately decreed that there are no throwaway lives and that each one is worth the effort. And now we are all making the effort together.

Should an individual find themselves caught in the cycle of addiction, help is available. With the proper diagnosis, treatment, education and support recovery is possible. If you know someone who is in need of substance use or mental health services, please call our 24Hr Crisis Helpline at 800-241-4949. This hotline will connect anyone in the state with help near them— a life is a terrible thing to waste– don’t hesitate to call!

Tom Watkins  career cuts across the public and private sector in leadership positions, including: President and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, FL., State Superintendent of Schools and State Mental Health Director, Michigan, China business and educational consultant and President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


May 18, 2017 · Filed under Tom Watkins



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