Drug overdose deaths increased more than eight percent in Michigan last year, according to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offering little promise to a state fighting its own battle in America’s war on opioid abuse.
The CDC released on Wednesday its predicted number of overdose deaths for the 12-month reporting period of January 2017 through January 2018.
The data estimates 2,662 people died from drug overdoses in Michigan last year, increasing for at least the third straight year. The increase of 8.3 percent is almost two points above the national average of 6.6 percent. Since 2014, drug overdose deaths in Michigan have increased more than 46 percent. In 2014, one in 51 deaths in Michigan was from a drug overdose. Last year, it was one in 36.
The CDC’s numbers are estimates because some overdose deaths go underreported and some deaths have yet to be officially determined as overdoses.
“Pretty much every state department is involved in the efforts to address this epidemic,” said Bob Wheaton with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. He says HHS has been fighting the epidemic with “a very wide-ranging approach” that includes prevention and recovery programs, as well as legislation like placing limits on opioid prescriptions.
The epidemic does not just kill – it also scars – taking a significant toll on the families of those addicted. Wheaton says HHS has seen a pointed increase in child protective services cases involving drugs. But one byproduct of the epidemic that hits Michigan especially hard is babies coming out of the womb addicted to opioids.
“We’ve seen an especially high rate of newborn children being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is essentially withdrawal from opioids because they were exposed to opioids when they were in the mother’s womb,” Wheaton said.
In 2014, 712 per 100,000 infants born in Michigan suffered from opioid withdrawal, according to HHS . That was a six-fold increase compared to 10 years prior.
Nationwide, 2017 was a record year for overdose deaths in America. The nearly 72,000 deaths were more than the peak yearly death tolls from HIV, car crashes and gun deaths.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia saw increases in overdose deaths, with Nebraska (33.3 percent), North Carolina (22.5 percent) and New Jersey (21.1 percent) experiencing the highest increases.
Michigan's neighbors, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, all saw increases ranging from 6.9 to 15.1 percent.
Thirteen states saw a decrease in overdose deaths, however all but one state in that group had deaths in only the tens or hundreds to begin with.
Helping states in their individual fights against the epidemic is the federal government. Michigan received more than $83 million in fiscal year 2017 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to curb substance abuse. President Donald Trump also declared the epidemic a nationwide public health emergency .
“It just helps us as far as providing more resources,” Wheaton said.
Though the current outlook is bleak, some things have offered flickers of hope. Last year, HHS started allowing pharmacies to distribute naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, to addicted people and their families in order to save people from death.
“There have been a tremendous number of pharmacies that have registered to dispense naloxone and a large number of orders of naloxone that have been dispensed,” Wheaton said. “But we don’t necessarily have data yet that we can say that has saved ‘x’ number of lives.”
Combining naloxone with prevention and recovery efforts, as well as with targeted state laws and increased public awareness, Wheaton hopes that next year’s overdose death numbers will reflect the progress the state is trying to make.
“We’re hoping that in the coming months and years that’s going to start to show up in the data.”