DETROIT (WJBK) - In 2016, more than 1,300 people died from prescription opioid overdoses alone in Michigan. In the past five years, fatal overdoses have more than tripled and law enforcement is turning to a different drug - and the public - to save lives.
Opioid overdoses are claiming lives at an alarming rate - they're up 740 percent since 1999 - but it's not just illegal drugs like heroin. Oxycotin, vicodin, and codeine are all linked to the overdose deaths, according to Carmen McIntyre at the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.
"In 1999, we had 235 deaths from opioid overdoses in Michigan. In 2015, we had almost 2000 deaths. Wayne County, we had 817 alone for 2016," McINtyre said.
To help save lives, the health authority has started training police officers, first responders, and community members how to use Narcan.
"We have implemented over 3000 kits, we've saved 58 lives that we know of," Darlene Owens said.
The goal is save even more lives and Narcan can now be used as a nasal spray in a matter of seconds to help prevent an overdose death.
"Now, we have the single medication where it's not putting anything together, it just goes right up the nose," Owens said.
The street drugs are part of the problem but it's the prescriptions that are really cause for concern. In 2016, Michigan health providers wrote 11 million prescriptions for opioid drugs. That's enough to provide every Michigan resident with his or her own bottle of narcotics. Experts say more doctors are being asked to pay attention to pain control, but not enough are looking at alternatives.
"For most dental procedures, you should be fine with just Tylenol instead of getting some Vicodin. But also, we should be looking at physical therapy, exercise, massage," McIntyre said.
This type of training also better protects law enforcement officers who may come in dangerous contact, ATF special agent James Soper said.
"When it becomes more potent, there is a possibility we may actually take on the effects of that heroin, and some of the effects is where officers end up passing out from mainly inhaling, these types of narcotics, through processing evidence at scenes or within their police departments," Soper said.
The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is providing Narcan training to the community seven days a week. CLICK HERE for more information