Drug overdoses in Michigan were on a downward trend before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2019, there were 2,354 fatal overdoses in Michigan. 1,768 of them—or about 75%--were opioid-related.
Overall, overdoses were down 9.4% from 2018. However, overdose rates for Black Michiganders actually climbed slightly in 2019, rising by 2.7%. And fatal overdoses related to psychostimulants such as methamphetamine increased by 21%, accounting for more than 200 deaths.
State health officials say the larger trend shows their strategy to combat overdoses is working.
“Our efforts to prevent opioid misuse, provide high-quality recovery treatment and reduce the harm caused by opioids to individuals and their communities are paying off,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for MDHHS, said in a statement. “We have made significant progress, however, our preliminary 2020 data is showing there may have been an uptick in deaths last year. This illustrates that there is much more work to do and we will not rest until we have made further progress in addressing an issue that has devastated far too many families.”
But people who work in addiction services almost universally say that overdoses have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and preliminary data support their observations. According to the University of Michigan’s System for Opioid Overdose Surveillance, more than 2,900 people in Michigan have died of suspected overdoses since the start of 2020. That data only includes opioid overdoses, and doesn’t cover every jurisdiction in the state.
Andre Johnson, CEO of the Detroit Recovery Project, said the pandemic has disrupted traditional addiction treatment services.
“People are not experiencing the true experience of what it means to be in recovery and have that social interaction with other people,” Johnson said. “Those individuals often make connections with people who are now introduced to this recovery and sobriety process. And that takes time, that takes energy, that takes face-to-face connection.”
Michigan is not an outlier here. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, drug overdoses nationally jumped more than 26% between September 2019-2020.