After years of restoration, deaths from opioid overdoses are rising throughout the pandemic
(WXYZ) – The state of Michigan celebrated in 2019. The number of deaths from opioid overdose had decreased by 13.2% compared to the previous year, which had also seen a decrease. But then the pandemic hit.
“Opioid-related overdoses have undoubtedly increased,” said Chad Brummett, anesthetist and pain doctor at the University of Michigan and co-director of the Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network (OPEN).
While data for 2020 are preliminary, deaths from opioid-related overdoses rose 20% in the first half of the year. They rose from 874 in January to June 2019 to 1,045 in the same period in 2020.
“I think it was disheartening to see the increase in overdoses after years of recovery,” said Brummett.
The rise in deaths is attributed to isolation, economic insecurity and disruptions in easy access to health care. The pandemic has harmed many aspects of normal life. And it also brought new challenges to the state’s response to an ongoing health opioid crisis.
“Removing those social supports, along with limited access to certain types of care, can be devastating,” said Gina Dahlem, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing.
In June 2020, the state created a portal to facilitate the distribution of naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids.
“This has enabled community organizations to order in bulk and make them available to their employees or attendees,” said Amy Dolinky, senior advisor for Michigan’s opioid strategy.
Since then, the state has distributed more than 100,000 kits. It has also partnered with Next Nalaxone to allow individuals to place orders.
“All of this is free to the community,” said Dolinky.
While naloxone has played a crucial role in reducing overdose deaths nationally, it had shortcomings at the height of the pandemic when many were alone and therefore consumed alone.
“If you use it alone it can be very dangerous,” said Dahlem. “Because there is nobody to help you.”
Lawyers and the state also recognize that while naloxone is an amazing resource, it should not be the only solution. Much of the work related to the state’s opioid crisis has also focused on early interventions such as reducing doctors’ reliance on opioid prescriptions.
In 2017, Michigan OPEN, an organization trying to minimize the opioid epidemic in the state, found that doctors were prescribing 50 to 75 percent more addictive pain relievers than necessary.
Brummett, the organization’s co-director, said there were fears that COVID – especially long-term COVID – could affect progress in changing these statistics.
“I know for sure that many of people with long-term COVID describe pain, fatigue and discomfort and headaches,” said Brummett.
This is especially important to the state and other proponents who highlight the racial differences that have overshadowed both the pandemic and the opioid crisis.
“Those who have experienced the greatest stress [with the opioid crisis]”It’s a similar population to those affected by the pandemic,” said Dahlem.
For example, while the death rate from opioid overdose among white residents fell by 16.9 percent in 2019, it rose by 0.7 percent among black residents.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch a new website in the coming months that will allow you to track opioid and overdose in each community.