Members of a county-led opioid abuse advisory committee recently weighed in on the status and focus of their efforts, as well as their position related to a federal lawsuit.

The committee, comprised of Livingston County Commissioners Gary Childs, Kate Lawrence, and Doug Helzerman, met Monday and held an informal discussion with community members regarding regional aspects of the opioid epidemic. Among those in attendance were local residents, candidates running for various governmental positions, a nurse and a pharmacist. Each provided their perspective on the crisis, but several wanted to know whether Livingston County would be joining a number of Michigan counties and municipalities in a federal lawsuit filed against drug manufacturers and pharmacies. The lawsuit seeks damages related to opioid treatment, related deaths and law enforcement costs.

Commissioner Lawrence says "there's not a lot of answers yet", as the committee is just now beginning its investigation into what the best avenue is to tackle the crisis and "looking for answers to specific questions." Lawrence says the committee was formed to explore what’s being done locally, how stakeholders can work together and whether the committee would make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners on taking action to potentially join the suit. Resident Judith Minton was interested in whether the board had established metrics for their investigation and agreed identifying one specific mission is the hardest part.

Committee Chairman Gary Childs voiced the idea that politics and preferences need to be removed, saying there's a need for collaboration between the various agencies and groups fighting the crisis. Childs says that could include other counties for the best outcome, instead of "everybody going after the same piece of the pie." Speaking to the lawsuit, Commissioner Helzerman says, "We need to be careful...if there is money to be gotten...the money will never come close to the cost to the county and individual lives."

Former Howell Township Trustee Mike Tipton spoke to the committee, stating there is an "assumption that the county would be reluctant to do any funding," adding that while they may offer coordination and support, funds would be non-existent or a minimal contribution.

While several community members in attendance voiced support for the county to join the lawsuit, Registered Nurse Kelly Wilkinson is currently against it. She says she could be swayed with solid reasoning, but responded to a pharmacist in attendance who feels the opioid problem may partially begin with doctors inappropriately prescribing drugs by being “pressured into it”.

Wilkinson says there's a problem within the medical field as a whole and that action should begin with specific education for health professionals in teaching patients how to properly use prescribed opioids. Wilkinson says there’s also a lack of pain management alternatives available and a community stigma against addicts seeking recovery.

A closed session was held at the end of the committee’s meeting to discuss legal opinions on whether the county would take part in the lawsuit; however an outcome or any part of the discussion was not shared afterward. (DK)