Column: Opioid abuse requires a comprehensive solution

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By Sen. Mike Shirkey
16th Senate District

The opioid abuse problems in Branch, Hillsdale, and Jackson counties and across the state have reached epidemic proportions. We all have someone in our family or circle of friends who have been impacted by prescription related addictions. There is no silver bullet that will solve this issue.

While legislation itself won’t solve the problem, it can play a significant role.

A concerted effort is now underway in Lansing regarding opioid addiction. Numerous bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate as part of a bipartisan legislative package addressing opioid abuse. Most of the Senate bills are now before the Senate Health Policy Committee, which I am privileged to chair.

To facilitate the processing and evaluation of this growing list of proposed legislation, we have established four distinct categories within the spectrum of the overall opioid problem. They are: supply, education and responsibility, treatment, and law enforcement. These categories closely align with the recommendations of the governor’s task force and help to ensure we are addressing this as comprehensively as possible.

One such bill is Senate Bill 272 requiring physicians to educate patients and have them affirm they understand the dangers of opioids, they have been given proper medication disposal instructions, and they understand it is against Michigan law for their pills to get in the hands of any other individual. This bill attempts to address both the “supply” problem and the “education and responsibility” opportunity.

Another bill, SB 274, would limit the number of opioids a physician could prescribe in the initial prescription. This bill is intended to help restrict the supply of unused opioid prescriptions that get to the street.

Another piece of the puzzle is the modernization of the Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS). MAPS is a prescription monitoring program that tracks prescriptions for Schedule 2 through Schedule 5 controlled substances and helps prevent drug diversion and fraud by prescribers, pharmacies, and patients. Our current system has not been properly used by the medical community because it is cumbersome, quirky, and simply difficult to use.

The updated MAPS will be particularly useful for physicians to monitor whether patients with pain symptoms have multiple prescriptions and could be engaging in drug diversion or doctor shopping. It also can identify providers who may be abusing their prescriptive authority.

Our Senate committee on health policy recently heard testimony on the improved version of MAPS. So far there is every indication that the medical community is eager to embrace and use the modernized version, which is one of the lynch pins of our overall plan to drive a stake in the heart of opioid abuse.

Opioid abuse is a complex problem requiring a broad and all-encompassing solution. We must address supply, increase education and responsibility regarding the use of medications, offer and perhaps demand that other options are considered before opioids are prescribed, empower law enforcement, and offer more rehabilitation options.

This affliction affects us all. And in virtually every case, it begins in someone’s home. This is a community problem, in the broadest sense of the word. Government can provide some structure and some much needed tools. But it will require everyone to be on alert and take their responsibilities seriously, whether it is a patient, provider, or parent/caretaker to a make a measurable difference.

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Senator Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is the chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee. He serves the residents of Michigan’s 16th Senate District, which includes Branch, Hillsdale and Jackson counties.