Some states, including Michigan, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Michigan:
Heroin is a "significant" public health problem in Michigan, says Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Health. According to the department, heroin abuse can result in fatal overdoses, infections of the heart lining and valves, liver and kidney disease and pulmonary issues related to pneumonia. Those who inject heroin are at high risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis C, Michigan health officials said.
Heroin overdose deaths in Michigan increased from 271 during the four-year period of 1999-2002 to 728 from 2010-2012, according to data compiled by the state health department. And admissions to publicly funded programs for heroin treatment doubled from about 6,500 in 2002 to about 13,600 in 2013.
As in other states, Michigan lawmakers are weighing legislation to allow friends and families of addicts to administer a heroin antidote in the event of overdoses.
"It is unrealistic to think that someone who is in the midst of an overdose would be able to recognize that fact and administer the drugs on their own," said state Rep. Anthony Forlini, a sponsor of one of the bills. Forlini is from Macomb County, which, according to state health records, had more heroin overdose deaths from 2010-2012 than any other county, including the more populous Wayne and Oakland.
Currently in the state, naloxone — commonly known by the brand name Narcan — and other opioid antagonists only can be prescribed to a recovering drug addict. Under the proposed bills, doctors would be able to prescribe the antagonist drugs to family members or a friend of the person who is in a position to help if an overdose occurs. Those administering the antagonist drugs and the pharmacist or prescriber of the drug would be shielded from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they were acting in good faith.