For some, it’s a culture problem. For others, it’s overprescription. But all can agree: Opioid use is a problem in Hillsdale County.
Hillsdale College’s chapter of College Republicans held a panel of community members on Tuesday evening to discuss the local impact of America’s opioid epidemic. The panel included Republican Congressman Tim Walberg, Sheriff Tim Parker, District Drug Court Judge Sara Lisznyai, Director of Emergency at Hillsdale Hospital Donald Brock, and Director of Health Services at Hillsdale College Brock Lutz. Roughly 100 people attended, the majority of whom are members of the community.
Brock said in his 25 years in the medical field, he has pronounced 50 to 100 people dead from opiate-related causes.
“This is something we need to focus on,” Brock said.
Opioid overdoses are the main source of drug-related deaths in the United States. They were related to 42,249 deaths in 2016. Overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also lists the increase of opioid-related deaths from 2015 to 2016 as “statistically significant.”
The panel focused both on broad issues as well as solutions being implemented in the community. Walberg said one of the main causes of the opioid crisis is the breakdown of communities.
“We in society need to be concerned about people caught in this trap,” Walberg said. “We’ve gotten away from the basics of moral society. Some say leave it to the churches. No, we leave it to ourselves.”
Parker added insight from law enforcement, saying that the crime rates in Hillsdale County are “fueled by” theft for money to buy drugs.
“From the sheriff’s office standpoint, we are reactive more than proactive,” Parker said.
Lisznyai explained that some local programs focus on rehabilitation, rather than just incarceration. One in particular consists of five steps and includes meeting weekly with Lisznyai and frequent drug testing. Although the program is new enough that it hasn’t seen any graduates yet, the longest-standing case of sobriety is 275 days.
“The drug courts have proven to be one of the best approaches so far,” Walberg said.
The panel also discussed fentanyl, an opioid stronger heroin that is often mixed into other drugs.
“Fentanyl seems to be the kicker that puts people over the edge,” Parker said. Fentanyl also puts officers and their families at risk, Parker said. Suspected drugs are sent away to a lab, rather than submitted to a street test, so officers are not exposed to the drugs. Granules can sometime travel home with officers, exposing family members to them.
The panel stressed that there is hope, however. The use of treatments such as Narcan and Vivitrol can help break addiction. Both drugs bind to receptors in the brain, blocking the effects of the drugs.
“No euphoria, no effect whatsoever,” Brock said. “I think you’re going to see this become a real great drug.”
Former addict Kristi Fraga, 42, attended the talk. Fraga struggled with addiction from 1989 to 2011 and spent six years in jail.
“The culture views addiction as a character defect,” Fraga said. “I feel like it’s a societal defect.”
Fraga added that part of the draw of opioids is the way they numb emotional pain, in addition to physical.
“That’s the relief people are seeking,” Fraga said.
Acting President of College Republicans Rachel Umaña said the group would most likely host the event again.
“I do think it’s great that we focus on national politics, but we can’t neglect the community around us,” Umana said. “It’s not something that’s going to be solved overnight.”
For Fraga, the solution is helping people find meaning.
“When you don’t have that sense of of self-worth because you’re not doing anything meaningful, you fill it with a substance,” Fraga said.