LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Overdose Prevention Coalition is taking on Michigan’s opioid public health emergency through collaborative action, thoughtful policy changes and grassroots advocacy.
“Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to reduce the negative impacts of substance use,” said Steve Alsum, executive director of The Grand Rapids Red Project. “MOPC members have a great depth of personal and professional experience related to substance use and overdose. They are working to change the narrative around harm reduction by combating harmful stereotypes, educating policymakers and advocating for effective policy changes that save lives.”
The coalition supports expanding the availability of naloxone — a safe medication designed to rapidly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and prevent fatalities — and access to syringe service programs. SSPs offer participants an open door to recovery through judgement-free and person-centered wraparound care and other services to reduce the harms associated with substance use.
“Naloxone is proven to be an effective tool in preventing opioid-related deaths, with more than 80% of overdose reversals carried out by other substance users nationwide,” said Justin Fast, senior consultant at Public Sector Consultants, the nonpartisan public policy firm hired to staff and conduct research for the coalition. “In 2020, Michigan SSPs saved at least 2,000 lives with naloxone.”
Since 2016, Michigan pharmacies have dispensed naloxone under a single, statewide prescription issued by the chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. MOPC is working to broaden this policy to allow community-based organizations to purchase and distribute naloxone under the standing order. This expanded access, especially at a grassroots level, will lead to fewer preventable deaths with no fiscal impact on the state budget.
The group is also pushing to dismantle barriers to SSP establishment and operation and protect individuals obtaining or returning syringes from arrest, prosecution, charges or conviction. Currently, SSP staff, participants and well-intentioned passersby can face criminal charges for activities that protect public health, such as attempting to safely discard used needles. Even though syringes and other equipment provided by health programs are not classified as drug paraphernalia under state law, many Michigan communities criminalize these activities.
“An unintended consequence of the current law is that more needles and syringes end up in public places, like parks, which raises the risk of needle sticks among first responders and law enforcement officials,” said City of Sterling Heights Police Chief and coalition member Dale Dwojakowski.
Many community leaders around the state are advocating for these policy reforms and others that increase access to evidence-based harm reduction strategies. To learn more about the Michigan Overdose Prevention Coalition, get facts on naloxone and SSPs, and access advocacy materials, visit www.mioverdoseprevention.com.
Dawn Doerr, Public Sector Consultants