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Frontline workers trying to fix overdose crises with overdoses increasing by nearly 20% from last year


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    MICHIGAN (WNEM) — The opioid epidemic is trending in the wrong direction as overdose deaths continue to rise jumping nearly 30 percent from last year across the country.

“Before COVID hit, we had the first dip in over a long time. And then when covid hit, the numbers just spiked,” said Lori Ziolkowski, executive board member of Families Against Narcotics GLBR.

More than 100,000 people have died of drug overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021.

“When I saw that figure of over 100,000, I was like ugh. It just is a gut punch,” Ziolkowski said.

In that same time period, more people than ever died of drug overdoses in Michigan. That is up nearly 20 percent from the previous year.

For Ziolkowski at Families Against Narcotics, fighting addiction hits home.

“In 2013, our then 18-year-old daughter experienced a non-fatal heroin overdose. It threw our family into a medical crisis and a rush to help save her life,” Ziolkowski said.

Her daughter is five years into recovery. Ziolkowski said her experience underscores a key point about overdoses.

“This is not an epidemic of bad parenting. This is not an epidemic of bad teenage decisions and bad morals. We have to understand that this is the medical crisis that it is,” Ziolkowski said.

The main culprits are fentanyl and counterfeit pills. It is so bad Barry Schmidt, with Bay County Prevention Network, said the group is trying to start a quick-response team.

“We’re averaging about three or five overdoses a day approximately is what I’ve heard. For those that do overdose, we’ll have a connection with our city law enforcement agency here and we’ll be able to go and get those people the help they need,” Schmidt said.

Neva Johnson is a nurse practitioner at the Flint Odyssey House.

“They’re playing Russian roulette with their lives,” Johnson said.

She said many of her patients overdose multiple times including one who now serves an example of the potential for a tragic outcome.

“A young lady had been here in the program several times and then she came through detox a few times. She was getting ready to go back out there and I begged her. Same thing I tell everybody, I do not want to read your name in an obituary. Three weeks later, that’s just what I was doing,” Johnson said.

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