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Summit held to combat opioid addiction in Cass County

An ‘Opioid Summit’ in Cass County Friday brought 250 community leaders together in an effort to improve treatment of a growing epidemic.

“The purpose of this summit is to educate those who are really in critical positions to have an impact on this problem,” Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said.

That problem is the opioid epidemic that is taking over much of the country, but especially Michiana.

“Southwest Michigan and northern Indiana match the top 10 percent of the problem in the country,” opioid addiction and treatment expert Dr. R. Corey Waller said.

So Friday’s summit at Southwestern Michigan College was held in an effort to teach community leaders how to better approach the problem.

“We have doctors, we have dentists, we have lawyers, we have social workers, school officials, ambulance attendants; you name it, we’ve got the folks that need to be here are here today,” Fitz said.

“I think today is to get people on the same page of understanding that addiction is a chronic neurobiological disorder; that it’s not a decision,” Dr. Waller said.

Waller, a leading expert in the field, was flown in to offer his renowned experience at the summit.

“The goal with this is not to teach everybody everything,” he said. “It’s really to get everyone on the same page so that as we move forward treating this epidemic of opioid overdose, that we can get on top of it quickly and that everybody can be in the same path in doing so.”

Waller said the biggest issue communities like Cass County face is a lack of resources.

There are only 3,000 board-certified addiction medicine doctors in our country, according to Waller, who are treating nearly 30 million people suffering from addiction.

Michigan State Senator John Proos said it’s time to help the community step up.

“We have a responsibility now to bring a broader awareness to the public and I think conferences like this really give the best opportunity for folks to understand better exactly what this  impact is and take action at home,” Proos said.

Taking advice from experts back home is exactly what Dr. Waller said needs to happen to effectively fight this epidemic.

“This is a community problem,” he said. “We have science to approach it, but it has to be approached in the culture with which people live in, because the fix is going to be something that melds with who you are and where you live, as much as it is gonna be about the science and the data.”

Fitz said 250 people attended Friday’s summit, and he said there will be more programs like this one, including one focused on law enforcement in October.

Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley also spoke at Friday’s summit.

“I wanted to share with [the attendees] some of the things that are happening at the state level [to combat the opioid epidemic] to ensure that we’re all successful as we possibly can be,” Calley said. “What I love to see, and where Cass County is standing out today, is to have this many of the community players that are engaged to work together to overcome it.”

Calley added, “I hope they’ll come away from it invigorated that there is support from the state, but also, a determination to make a difference at the local level.”

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