Upper Peninsula Coalition Network takes major step in fighting opioid epidemic

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The Upper Peninsula took a major step in fighting the opioid epidemic Friday. The Upper Peninsula Coalition Network received a $52,500 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and The Superior Health Foundation to reduce opioid and prescription drug abuse.

"This is part of a state-wide effort where we are releasing over $500,000 across the state, but here in the U.P. in an effort to work with the community, to work with our partners and friends, to begin the fight of the opioid abuse epidemic that is occurring not just here in the U.P. but nationwide," says Jeff Connolly, West Michigan President of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Each day, more than 1,000 people are treated in the emergency department nationwide for misusing prescription opioids, and 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Michigan is ranked 18th in the nation for most overdose deaths.

"One of the things I think people don't realize is that in a rural community they say, 'How can this kind of thing happen to us?' Well it does, and we have a huge issue here in the Upper Peninsula, stretching from Ironwood to Sault Sainte Marie and from Houghton down to Menominee. We want to be part of that solution, so we were happy to provide some funding dollars, matching dollars with this, to help combat a problem that if we don't get out in front of this now it's going to get even worse, so we're happy to be part of this collaborative," explains Jim Lajoie, Executive Director of the Superior Health Foundation.

With this grant, The Upper Peninsula Coalition Network hopes to implement a number of preventative projects across the U.P.

"We'll be working on things like an evidence-based model that helps us understand where each community is so that we can move them forward in the coalition model, and then we're going to be using it for messaging across the U.P. on prescribing practices and take-back days and some other things like that," says Gery Shelafoe, Upper Peninsula NorthCare Prevention Coordinator.

"I believe it's all about being proactive and not reactive because the end result being reactive is we have them in the Marquette County jail. We have to be able to get out and educate at a young age. It such a major thing, the education, and then the programs like the drug take back program," says Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt.

From 1999 to 2016, opioid overdose deaths increased more than 17 times in Michigan from 99 to 1,689, so the Upper Peninsula Coalition Network hopes this grant will be the start in reducing the opioid epidemic.

"For all of the coalitions, we'd like to thank Blue Cross Blue Shield and The Superior Health Foundation," says Shelafoe.

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