Special Report: Opioids, Behind the Crisis

The nationwide opioid epidemic has claimed tens of thousands of lives, dragging small towns into the crisis, and certainly hitting home here in northern Michigan.

We are taking a look at how this crisis has impacted families and what can be done to help those who are in a life and death struggle with addiction.

More than 64,000 people died of a drug overdose last year.

Three quarters of those deaths were caused by opioids.

It’s now left us as a nation looking for a way to put a stop to this epidemic.

“Dana was very outgoing, if I could describe her in one word it would be love,” said Nancy Dow.

Fearless, driven, courageous, to know Dana Hendrickson, was to know joy.

“She was the giver of love. She lit up the room with her smile, she was very vivacious and she just loved everyone,” said her mother Nancy Dow.

But underneath that infectious personality was a more than decade long struggle with an addiction to prescription opioids.

“It began with pain management and the opioids just took effect on her. We encouraged her to get some help and Dana did, locally here in Traverse City. When Dana moved to Chicago she relapsed and became addicted to opioids again,” recalled Dow.

Dana found help in Chicago and was able to help other women who found themselves in similar situations.  She relapsed in the fall of 2016 after a back surgery.

“For me to realize the pain that Dana suffered from the shame breaks my heart, because it is my hope that we can make it different for people to reach out for that help and know that it’s okay. She never reached out to any of the friends in the program for help. She instead kept continually kept telling everyone that she was okay, and clearly she was far from okay,” explained Dow.

Dana was found dead from an overdose on April 8th of this year.

“You lose a part of yourself when you lose a child. A piece of me is gone, and I heard Dana shortly after she died speak to me and ask me to continue with her courage, and help others, and be her light, be the light of hope to others,” said Dow.

Her mother Nancy Dow is now on a mission to do that and to bring Dr. Subhash Rao to justice, the doctor who wrote prescriptions to Dana. We found that this year Dr. Rao was placed on probation and fined by the state of Illinois for inappropriately prescribing controlled substances to patients.

“He prescribed these drugs for six months to Dana, never offering any other options to her except to fill these medications weekly. This doctor was nothing more than a doctor, a drug dealer, with a lab coat on,” said Dow.

With this epidemic growing every day, the question becomes what can be done to stop it and how do we help those impacted by it, the answer to that question is not an easy one.

“It’s the largest reason are dying every year. It’s over taken car accidents and gun fatality,” said Susan Kramer, Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Munson Medical Center.

“The research kind of shows us that the total number of people that are addicted is staying fairly constant, what’s changing are the drugs of choice. People are paying attention because people are dying,” said Kramer.

Stopping this crisis will take a unique approach.

“Part of that is having treatment being easily assessable, people looking for warning signs, talking about prevention with youth, looking at the medical community how they can play a part, the legal system and how they can be a promoter of treatment,” explained Kramer.

President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is one of 41 Attorney’s General leading an investigation of opioid distributors and manufactures.

“We’re trying to crack down on these bad docs who over prescribe, these pill mills, and to crack down on the dealers who deal with opioids, who deal with synthetics and then later heroin. These people are merchants of death,” said Schuette.

Stopping this crisis won’t be easy. There’s not a one size fits all solution. But Nancy says she knows where to start.

“Random acts of kindness may seem so small, but they make a difference in someone’s day. The last six and a half months since Dana passed away have been the hardest months of my life, but it is through the love and the genuine acts of kindness through my family and my friends, that I sit here today having the ability to share Dana’s story, so that maybe they will understand there is hope out there, and it’s a ripple effect, and it’s all through just genuine acts of kindness,” said Dow.

Addiction Treatment Services

Munson Medical Center Behavioral Health

NMSAS Recovery Center

Harbor Hall

Catholic Human Services

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