MONROE, MI (WTOL) - Monroe County is ranked eighth in heroin overdose deaths in Michigan and is ranked 11th for opioid overdose deaths.
The heroin epidemic is an issue that plagues communities across the country. In Monroe County, there is a coalition that's been working to fight against it.
The Substance Abuse Coalition through the United Way of Monroe County, changed its tactics and focus in the last five year. It even has created a summit focusing on this epidemic.
"Not one organization can solve this epidemic that we have going on in this community," said Vicky Loveland, the Development Coordinator for Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition.
That's why they've created four community work groups to tackle the challenges of this ever-changing community problem. Those four groups are law enforcement, treatment and recovery, medical and prevention.
"Our prevention aspect of our coalition really focuses on our youth and working within our schools," Loveland said.
She also said they've seen a disappointing increase in the number of teenagers who say they have taken prescription drugs.
"With the data that we're able to access, we have seen an increase among our 7th and 11th graders who've admitted to taking a prescription drug that was not prescribed to them. Specifically the prescription pain opioids," she said.
Though still facing challenges, Loveland explained they've had some major successes. For instance, Michigan made Narcan, the overdose reversal drug over the counter.
"Our medical work group has worked very closely with our legislatures, with our Michigan Automated prescription system and is really getting doctors to use the system as they should and then not having certain exemptions on medications put into that system," Loveland explained.
The coalition said the community as a whole, public officials and private citizens, will continue work hard to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the county.
The substance abuse coalition's fifth and final summit will be later this year.
Another way Monroe County is fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic is by taking it to the courtroom. The Prosecutor's office said it's cracking down on the dealers who deal the drugs that lead to some of the overdose deaths.
"We have been focusing on prosecuting offenders," said Michael Roehrig, Chief Assistant Prosecutor. "Like drug dealers and health care professionals who provide fraudulent prescriptions."
Doctors like the one in Monroe who wrote more prescriptions for addictive pain meds than any other doctor in the state of Michigan. The county worked with the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute him.
Roehrig said their office is paving the way to create to new methods to handle overdose deaths.
"We helped to establish a protocol for law enforcement agencies investigating deaths under controlled substances where they treat the scene as an actual crime scene," Roehrig said.
He also cautions those using heroin.
"In fact the majority of deaths from what would appear to be heroin are actually from heroin and something else like fentanyl an opioid synthetic," Roehrig explained.
The prosecutor's office currently has six cases in their office that they are working on which have deaths related to heroin and opioid overdoses.