A nationwide effort is underway to address prescription drug and heroin abuse across the country.
West Michigan is following the nationwide trend. The number of both prescription and heroin deaths is on the rise according to the latest numbers from Kent County Medical Examiners annual report for 2015.
United States Attorney for West Michigan Pat Miles says, "We're highlighting this issue because prescription drug addiction can happen to any family, any community and any background."
Miles and several other law enforcement and medical professionals met Friday afternoon to discuss the issue. A local mother who lost her son to heroin was also on hand to tell her story. "We're a middle class, Christian family, every night at 6, we eat dinner together", says Mary DeBoer. Her 17 year old son Matt McKinney died of a heroin overdose in December of 2004. "Life has never been the same, every December 15th we go to cemetery as a family and put up a Christmas tree for Matt."
In Kent County were 75 drug deaths in 2014 and 109 in 2015. U-S Attorney Pat Miles says Heroin is more dangerous than ever. "Now we're seeing it combined with other drugs like fentanyl which is 100X more powerful than morphine. Carfentanil is 10,000X more powerful. It is an elephant tranquilizer."
Drug addiction often starts early with the use of alcohol. It progresses into the use of prescription drugs, then heroin. "People who are abusing pain killers are 40X more likely to get addicted to heroin", says Miles.
As a nurse, Mary DeBoer says she is now dedicating her time to helping others with substance abuse. She says with the right help, her son could have been saved. "Life goes on. Life changes. But that hole is always there. Matt is always missing."
The Department of Justice says it hopes to educate parents about prescription drug abuse because that is where the addiction begins. For an informational video you can go to: https://www.dea.gov/media/chasing-dragon.shtml