MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – The Upper Peninsula, like many other rural areas in the country continues to see opioid overdose death skyrocket. Over 2700 died in Michigan of opioid overdoses last year. Almost 400 more than the year before.

The Opioid Education Network (OPEN), an extension of Michigan State University, along with members of AmeriCorps VISTA are assisting local communities to assess service gaps and address the stigma of addiction.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that it’s not on the person, it’s not on moral failing when somebody has a substance use disorder,” said Mandy Bonesteel, AmeriCorps/VISTA. “It’s usually an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.”

Corey Holcomb of Community Action Alger-Marquette became involved due to a surge in babies suffering from the effects of opioid abuse.

“We realize that many of those exposed infants were actually receiving our services so we wanted to look more closely at what the issue was and see how we can better serve the families and the children in our program,” said Holcomb.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, is overcoming the stigma of substance abuse disorder.

“Especially around pregnant women who have a substance misuse because of the impact that it has on their child,” said Holcomb. “They’re afraid to receive services, to seek help because of that fear of judgement and stigma.”

Other obstacles facing OPEN are the lack of resources, lack of treatment facilities and access to mental health professionals.

“We really need more resources and people need to get access to those resources and that access can look like transportation, it can look like Internet service. It can look like public health education,” said Bonesteel. “Just knowing where to go and addressing the need that is up here.”

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