Health Forum of West Michigan to examine root of opioid epidemic

GVL / Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte

Drew Schertzer

Opioids are defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Some can be prescribed, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, and others, like heroin, are sold illegally. Nevertheless, 116 people died every day in 2016 from opioid-related overdoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To fight this growing problem, the event “Health Forum of West Michigan: Opioid Epidemic 2018” is being held Friday, Feb. 2. 

“The fact is that they (opioids) are important to discuss,” said Chief David Rahinsky of the Grand Rapids Police Department. “There isn’t a neighborhood in Grand Rapids that hasn’t been affected by them.”

Rahinsky will be giving a short presentation at the DeVos Center’s Loosemore Auditorium. He is one of three panelists who will begin a discussion at 8 a.m., following a light breakfast at 7:30 a.m. The talks should go until 9:30 a.m., with opportunities for attendees to ask questions. 

“We have chosen this topic because it is a significant problem across our nation,” said Jean Nagelkerk, vice provost for health at Grand Valley State University. “We need to come together to hear about the latest statistics, to learn how to prevent it and to discuss what resources the community has to help.”

Nagelkerk said public awareness is key, as the focus needs to be on the people who need help. Focusing on this is important, but so is awareness and prevention, Nagelkerk noted. When it comes to youth, the more parents who understand the complexity of opioids and the frequency of opioid use, the better the future for children, Nagelkerk said. 

Rahinsky added that the opioid epidemic affects many and that the societal cost is huge. He pointed out that sometimes opioid addiction stems from chemical deficiencies.

It’s common to blame the person as an addict and not see them as a victim, Rahinsky said, but he wants the conversation to be about the root of the problem. Whether it’s incorrect prescriptions or heroin dealers preying upon users with physical addictions to opioids, the issue needs to be brought up. Once the problems are laid out, it is easier to help people with addictions, Rahinsky said. He also gave encouragement to people who have addictions. 

“My advice would be to not give up,” Rahinsky said. “It’s a never-ending battle to get a person that needs help to seek it.” 

Getting someone help is half the battle. More often than not, you have to be relentless, Rahinsky said. People experiencing these problems know that it’s draining at times, but they have to do all that they can to give a good fight to get back on the right track. 

Other panelists will include Talal Khan, M.D. for addiction psychiatry for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, and Cara Poland, M.D. for addiction medicine at Spectrum Health. The talk will be moderated by Michael Bouthillier, director of operations at the College of Pharmacy at Ferris State University. 

The event is being hosted by the Office of the Vice Provost for Health at GVSU, as well as the Midwest Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research Center. For a full list of events, or to find out more information, visit