The recent commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31 served to highlight the need for increased vigilance in the fight against the nation’s opioid epidemic, which has only surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
Overdoses on the Rise
Emergency medical services and emergency rooms throughout Michigan have both seen substantial increases in opioid overdoses since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early spring. In a news release, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services noted these increases are a reminder of the continued toll of the opioid epidemic across Michigan and the United States. The department urges anyone with opioid use disorder to carry naloxone and practice other safety measures to prevent overdose deaths.
EMS Responses Increase
According to statistics gathered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, EMS responses for opioid overdose increased by 33% from April to May of this year. Additionally, EMS responses for opioid overdoses from April through June were 26% higher than the same period in 2019. EMS responses for opioid overdoses increased for all regions and nearly all demographic groups, with the exception of residents ages 65 and older.
While all racial groups demonstrated increases in opioid overdoses and transport refusals during the pandemic, preliminary data suggests white residents experienced the greatest increases during this period. Despite this finding, long-standing racial disparities continue to impact how Black residents experience opioid overdoses, resulting in a far higher opioid overdose rate, according to MDHHS. The average monthly rate of EMS responses for opioid overdoses among Black residents was 219.8 per 100,000 residents, as compared to 123.4 among white residents between April and June.
ER Visits Climb
After an initial drop in April, emergency room visits for opioid overdoses increased in May and June to pre-pandemic levels, despite emergency rooms seeing fewer visits overall in Michigan during the pandemic. The total number of emergency room visits from April to June declined 38% compared with April to June 2019, while the number of opioid overdose ER visits increased by 2%. The MDHHS said it is too early to determine if opioid overdose deaths have increased following the onset of the pandemic due to the length of time required to finalize death certificates.
In Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties, treatment resources for opioid addiction can be accessed through the Mid-State Health Network by calling the 24/7 phone line at (844) 405-3905. Additional treatment resources are available on the website of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services by visiting michigan.gov/mdhhs. For individuals who are not ready to access treatment, MDHHS recommends safer drug use to prevent further injury and death due to overdose during this time.