In a county that has deeply struggled with opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths, community leaders in public health, law enforcement, area hospitals, and other local groups are continuing to tackle addiction and shed a light on the issue with a medication and needle drop-off event in Muskegon this Saturday, Oct. 26.
Hosted by the Muskegon Area Medication Disposal Program [MAMDP], the biannual event will take place from 10am to 2pm at the City of Muskegon Fire Department, located at 770 Terrace St. in downtown Muskegon. It is free and open to the public.
Coinciding with the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Take Back Day, Muskegon’s event has, over the past decade, collected close to 37,000 pounds of medications and encouraged the community to help officials address an opioid crisis that has claimed hundreds of area residents’ lives, sent individuals to jail, and separated families.
“Especially with the opioid epidemic, we feel this take back event is very important because it’s disposing of unwanted or unused medications in a safe way,” said Rachel McCoy, the Community Health Improvement Coordinator at Mercy Health’s Health Project.
Community residents are encouraged to drop off their unused or expired over-the-counter and prescription medications at the event, including ointments, sprays inhalers, creams, pet medications, and needles. Muskegon County’s Public Health department is providing MAMDP with 200 prescription lock boxes to be distributed for free at the event.
For those unable to make Saturday’s event, you can drop off medications at any police station in the county. There is a box by every single police station where individuals may drop off their medications, with no questions asked. Additionally, various pharmacies accept unused or expired medications. A full list of medication disposal sites in Muskegon County can be found by clicking here.
“Disposing medications and sharps properly is an important step in reducing the opioid epidemic,” said Jill Keast, the Public Health Education Supervisor at Muskegon County’s Public Health department. “Multiple organizations and community coalitions have worked tirelessly to develop strategies to overcome barriers and to engage community through education.”
With the take back events, lock boxes “and education, we hope that community members can become a key ally in preventing prescription drug abuse,” Keast said.
Launched in 2010, the take back event is one of a series of initiatives that community organizations offer as part of their efforts to address an opioid crisis that has been felt across the country, including acutely in Muskegon. An estimated 10.3 million Americans aged 12 and older misused opioids in 2018, including 9.9 million people who were abusing prescription pain relievers and 808,000 individuals who were using heroin, according to federal statistics.
Opioids include both illegal drugs, such as heroin, and prescription pain medicine. Common opioids used to treat pain include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and codeine. From 1999 to 2016, the total number of of overdose deaths involving any type of opioid increased more than 17 times in Michigan, from 99 to 1,699, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Data from the Michigan Automated Prescription System report 11.4 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2015 were written–about 115 opioid prescriptions per 100 people.
In Muskegon County, there were 40 drug-related accidental deaths in 2018—which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all opioid-related, but which health officials said typically involve heroin, fentanyl, some over-the-counter opiates, and methamphetamines.
In 2017, there were 47 drug-related accidental deaths, and there were 39 such deaths in 2016. These numbers have remained fairly steady over the past half-decade, but represent a dramatic increase over 20 years ago, according to Muskegon County health officials.
“If you look at the past 20 years, those numbers have significantly increased,” Keast said of opioid-related deaths. “Over the last five or six years, they’ve been steady. We’re doing everything we can to lessen those numbers or keep them from getting higher.”
For Medicaid patients, the number one reported reason for seeking treatment in Muskegon County is heroin use, Keast said. She emphasized that because the Public Health department does not have access to data from private insurance companies, the Medicaid information is only representative of a portion of the community.
Following heroin, the number two reason Medicaid patients seek treatment in Musekgon County is alcohol, then synthetic opiates and opiates other than heroin.
As with past events, Saturday’s take back plays a significant role in addressing these addictions by removing medications from people’s homes and therefore reducing the risk of accidental poisoning, environmental contamination (which, for example, can happen when individuals flush medications down the toilet), and misuse.
“The idea behind a medication take back is getting those medications out of your house so your kid doesn’t take them, your teenager isn’t playing with them, and your dog isn’t eating them,” Keast said.
“There are a lot of pills being produced; there are tons of pills everywhere,” she continued. “The idea is to get them off the street and dispose of them properly. You definitely don’t want to flush them down the toilet; those end up in the water supply.”
With the medications collected at the take back events, pharmacists are on hand to sort the pills and identify them, and police officers then take the medication to have them incinerated at an EPA-approved facility.
Saturday’s event is just one of a myriad initiatives happening throughout the county to address opioid addiction, and Keast emphasized the “awesome” work that the Muskegon Red Project has been undertaking in the county. The Red Project offers Naloxone, also known as Narcan, for free to anyone interested. Naloxone is a prescription medication that can rescue someone from an opioid overdose. This medication is available at sites throughout the county; a full list of these locations is available by clicking here.
The county also has an opioid task force with members representing a vast range of professions and backgrounds, from law enforcement and prosecutors to hospital officials, emergency room doctors, individuals who work in addiction prevention, and much more.
Law enforcement too works with individuals facing addition to connect them with help, Keast said.
“If [the police] bust a drug house, then there’s people waiting for their fix; what do you do with those people—just leave them there?” Keast said. “No. We have treatment folks working with law enforcement to make sure somebody is called to help guide them into treatment if they wish to do so.”
Both McCoy and Keast noted the state legislation that has passed in recent years, which they said has paved the way for significant improvements when it comes to opioid addiction in Michigan. For example, a state law that went into effect in 2018 prohibited doctors from prescribing more than a seven-day supply of opioid medication for patients in acute pain (such as from broken bones, bad backs, and most surgeries). Doctors cannot write refills for the medications until the seven-day period has elapsed.
“The legislation passed over the past couple of years has been phenomenal,” Keast said. “It’s cut down on the supply from the medical community.”
The Muskegon Area Medication Disposal Program will take place 10am-2pm on Saturday, Oct. 26 at the City of Muskegon Fire Department, located at 770 Terrace Street. For more information, please click here.
Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Photos courtesy of the Muskegon Area Medication Disposal Program.