OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. -- As the opioid crisis continues to plague communities across the United States, one county here in West Michigan is ramping up its efforts to combat the drugs.
The "Taking Action Against Opioid Abuse" grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield is providing Michigan with $1 million to battle the epidemic, and Ottawa County received about $28,000.
Half of it is being used for prescriber education, and the rest will ecuate students and parents about the dangers of opioid use. In 2017 alone, 31 people died in Ottawa County due to the drugs.
Experts say the numbers are continuing to rise.
"There were 6.9 million pills prescribed in Ottawa County in 2016," said Gina Schutter, quality manager for Holland Physicians Hospital Organization. "That number is higher than the state’s average by about 46 percent."
On March 19, Ottawa County received $27,900 from the Blue Cross Blue Shield grant to battle against the epidemic.
"We are targeting physicians and looking at the prescriber aspect of it," Schutter said. "We want to do 3 things. The first is reduce the number of pills that are in our community we can do that a number of different ways... Three quarters of the time we were prescribing between 30 and 60 pills around a surgical event. But 50 percent of the patients were only taking six pills or less. So there’s a lot of unused medication maybe from over prescribing."
And that is medication that could potentially fall into the wrong hands. In addition to prescriptions, the Holland Physician Hospital Organization also wants doctors to know all they can abou treating pain.
"We want to create some guidelines on how to prescribe, how to manage, and the difference between acute pain and chronic pain," Schutter said. "There are two different ways of treating those. They are separate pains with separate courses of treatment."
The Department of Health and Human Services says overdoses in the U.S. accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, more than any previous year on record. An estimated 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths involved the use of a prescription.
"Ottawa County is just one county and we know this is a nationwide epidemic," said Joel Ebbers with the Ottawa County Opioid Task Force. "We know the U.S. consumes 80 percent of the world’s opioids."
The county's opioid task force is attempting to stop the problem before it starts by educating high school students.
"We have people from state police to treatment providers, recovery housing, prevention agencies, sheriff’s departments," Ebbers said. "It's to promote opioid awareness and safety among our high school students in the county."
They know how popular social media is, and are going to use the funding to further their reach online.
"We are developing an Instagram account here in Ottawa County that will be specific for opioid education," Ebbers said.
The war against opioid abuse won't be won overnight, but Ottawa County hopes to use the funds from the grant to make progress that will reduce casualties along the way.
"When we work together and get that synergy going we are going to make a bigger and longer lasting impact on the community," Ebbers said.