County opioid epidemic report combines personal narratives with community-wide solutions

A recent report from the Washtenaw County Health Department examines the personal stories of those affected by the opioid epidemic and recommends whole-community solutions to address the issue.


The report's title, The Healing Forest, comes from the Native American "Wellbriety" movement and indicates that the whole forest, meaning the whole community, needs to heal and be healthy in order for individuals to thrive.


Adreanne Waller, epidemiologist at the health department and author of the report, says she spends a lot of time combing through data for trends, but the report went beyond that approach.


"You don't really understand the root cause or what can address the issue unless you listen to folks," she says. "It's a lot harder, because you can't do that from a computer in your office. You need to get out and get to know people, and there needs to be time for trust to develop."


The 48 voices in the report come from people still struggling with addiction and those in treatment or in recovery, as well as health professionals, first responders, and other community members impacted by the epidemic.


Responses were grouped into 10 themes, ranging from No. 2, "Pharmaceutical industry, health care systems, and delivery changes are needed," to No. 8, "Multiple treatment approaches are necessary; there is no 'one size fits all.'"


The overarching theme is that systemic changes are needed to address the epidemic. For instance, Waller says, one reason some people become addicted to opioids is that their healthcare plans don't cover non-medication treatments for pain, like physical therapy.


Jimena Loveluck, deputy health officer at the health department, says there are no easy solutions to the epidemic. But making sure all stakeholders are connected, sharing information, and collaborating is part of the answer. She points to the Washtenaw Health Initiative Opioid Project as an example of a county-wide initiative that brings together representatives from the health department and various health systems in the county, as well as those who are providing substance use disorder treatments, to work together on strategies.


"It has to be a collaborative and coordinated effort, whether that's responding to new prescribing guidelines meant to limit the availability of opioids or law enforcement being trained to administer (the overdose treatment drug) Naloxone or treatment centers now incorporating medication-assisted treatment," Loveluck says. "Not one of us can do it alone."


Read the full report here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of Washtenaw County Health Department.

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