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Opinion | How to help stop the madness of Michigan fentanyl overdose

If you had the ability to save someone from an overdose, would you do it? 

As healthcare providers, we are very concerned with the current death rates of Michigan residents due to unintentional opioid overdoses. Substance use disorder is now known as a treatable chronic disease with cognitive, behavioral and physiological symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that synthetic opioids like fentanyl are increasingly dangerous, with fentanyl being undetectable in laced drugs.

Lindsay Chargot, Justeena Kuiper, Faith LeRoy
Lindsay Chargot of Dryden, Justeena Kuiper of Boyne Falls and Faith LeRoy of Ishpeming are former ICU nurses currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the Oakland University-Beaumont Graduate Program of Nurse Anesthesia.

Those who have substance use disorder do not deserve to overdose and die due to fentanyl laced drugs. We are proposing the implementation of a policy in Michigan to help reduce the number of unintentional overdoses through a risk reduction strategy.

A 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 40.3 million Americans aged 12 and older had a substance use disorder within the past year. Opioids were implicated in approximately 70 percent of all U.S. drug-related deaths. 

Recent literature shows up to 42 percent of black-market pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 mg of fentanyl, a potentially lethal dose. Overdose deaths involving illicit synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, rose 55.6 percent between 2020 and 2021. And Michigan ranks 5th in the country for illicit fentanyl related overdose deaths.

Michigan has taken steps to prevent these overdose deaths. The 2016 Naloxone Standing Order Law allows Narcan (Naloxone) to be dispensed at pharmacies without a prescription. Narcan rapidly reverses opioid overdose. It costs approximately $75 per dose and is a treatment only for use after an overdose occurs. 

Another law introduced in 2016, the Michigan Good Samaritan Law, allows individuals to seek treatment for drug overdoses without repercussion for possessing or ingesting illegal substances. 

While these actions undoubtedly helped save many lives, an overdose preventative measure needs to be considered as a harm reduction strategy. Fentanyl test strips are just the answer.

Fentanyl test strips are small pieces of paper that can be dipped into a drug or a mixture of the drug dissolved in water. A positive result will yield a single pink line and a negative result yields two pink lines on the left side of the strip after 2-5 minutes. 

The strips can be used to test many classes of drugs including methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine, in a variety of forms such as injectable, pills and powders. Not only are fentanyl test strips aimed at preventing an overdose as opposed to treating one,  they are much more cost efficient than Naloxone doses ($1 per strip versus $75 per dose of naloxone).

Opponents of this policy may be concerned about the financial cost to Michiganders. Fortunately, there are national and state organizations that provide funding for projects aimed at decreasing opioid overdose deaths. The Overdose Data Action Cooperative Agreement Grant was created in 2019 for just this reason. In the last application period, amounts ranging from $1.4 million to 7 million were awarded to initiatives aimed at preventing overdose deaths. 

If Michigan was awarded the minimum amount, ($1.4 million); that could provide every health department in the state with just over $30,000 in funding for fentanyl test strips. At $1 per strip, this could provide 30,000 test strips to the public for no added cost to Michigan citizens.

Substance use disorder does not discriminate, and someone you love could someday need the resources to be safe from black-market fentanyl laced drugs. Our goal is to make a positive impact by reducing the number of unsuspected overdoses in your community. 

We are asking you to please contact the Michigan Opioid Advisory Commission expressing your support of providing access to fentanyl test strips at State of Michigan Health Departments. In addition, please ask for the commission’s support for the State of Michigan Health Departments’ perusal of the Overdose Data Action Cooperative Agreement Grant for 2024. 

Today you can help save someone from an overdose.  

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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