Overdose and opioid-related deaths decrease in 2018, 1st time in 6 years

    Prescription pain pills are seen dumped out on a table at Grissom Air Reserve Base | Air Force Medical Service

    After several years of increases in overdose deaths, Michigan experienced an overall decrease in 2018, including a slight decline in opioid-related overdose deaths. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Friday there were 2,599 overdose deaths last year, 2,036 of which were opioid-related. 

    This is the first decline in overall overdose deaths in Michigan in six years. From 2017, overdose deaths declined by 3.2%, and opioid-related overdose deaths decreased by .8%. 

    Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Nov. 14, 2019 | Nick Manes

    “This is a step in the right direction, however, there is much work to be done, particularly when it comes to disparities and access to treatment,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for DHHS. “We have a plan in Michigan to cut opioid-related overdose deaths by half in five years and we will be using all available resources to make that goal a reality.”

    The number of deaths due to poisoning by heroin and commonly prescribed natural and semisynthetic drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone decreased, but drug poisoning deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl continue to climb.

    “With the devastation that the opioid epidemic inflicts on families and communities, the Michigan State Police is committed to doing all that we can to help,” said Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police. “Whether it be from a prevention standpoint with our Angel Program that assists those struggling with opioid use to find treatment or our efforts to arrest drug traffickers and interdict shipments of fentanyl coming into our state, we’re committed to working with our state and federal partners to combat this deadly epidemic.”

    Whitmer wants Michigan to cut opioid-related deaths by 50% in 5 years 

    Despite overall progress in decreasing overdose deaths, the data show troubling disparities across racial groups. 

    Overall overdose mortality rates among white residents decreased by 6.5%, while rates among black residents increased by 14.7%. Opioid overdose mortality rates among white residents decreased by 5.1%, while rates among black residents increased by 19.9%.

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Nov. 14, 2019 | Nick Manes

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, DHHS and other members of the Michigan Opioids Task Force last week announced the state’s strategy to address the opioid crisis. The plan focuses on three key areas: preventing opioid misuse, ensuring individuals using opioids can access high-quality recovery treatment and reducing the harm caused by opioids to individuals and their communities.

    The strategy includes a $1 million statewide anti-stigma campaign, a toolkit for medical providers on safer opioid prescribing practices, removing prior authorization requirements for specific medications used to treat these disorders, beginning Medication-Assisted Treatment programs in three state prisons with a goal of expanding treatment to all facilities by 2023 and expanding syringe service programs across the state.

    Allison Donahue
    Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues, LGBTQ issues and immigration. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.