Michigan works to reverse rise in substance use disorders during pandemic
Between April 2020 and April 2021, opioid drug overdoses killed more than 2,900 Michiganders, a 19% increase from the previous year. A significant number of opioid-related deaths occurred in May and June 2020, shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolation, boredom, financial stress, loss of loved ones, and constant closeness to roommates (in some cases, abusive parents or spouses) are thought to have increased substance use disorder. substances during the pandemic.
Dr. Debra Pinals.
“We saw declines in 2018 and 2019, so that was a sign of hope. But the COVID pandemic has had an impact,” says Dr. Debra Pinals, medical director for the Department of Health and Human Services of the Michigan (MDHHS) for Behavioral Health. and medico-legal programs. “We don’t know all the reasons for all this change. There was potentially more access and more synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, which really impacted the epidemic and made it more At the same time, a lot of treatment interventions have gone virtual to reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19, so we’ve seen a lot of quicksand.
Across Michigan, medical professionals are racing to figure out which communities have been hardest hit by SUDs during the pandemic — and how to turn the tide.
Communities at risk
Black men in large and mid-urban areas and white men in rural areas saw the largest increases in overdose death rates in May 2020. However, Pinals says more blacks and Hispanics died from a drug overdose compared to white populations in general.
“It’s very disheartening in terms of the disparities. Although we’re seeing increases at all ages, the biggest increase seems to be in the younger population, those under 24,” says Pinals. “The [Michigan] The Opioid Task Force examines why and how to reduce racial disparities as a major issue and a major pillar. The task force also identified several other areas – those involved in the criminal justice system, maternal and child overdose rates, and children born with opioid use disorder.
Native residents of Michigan are also experiencing an increase in overdose rates. The Intertribal Council of Michigan Tribal Perinatal Opioid Use Disorder program serves women and infants from three Upper Peninsula tribes: Bay Mills Indian Community, Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. According to Connie Deplonty, program manager, indigenous people in Michigan are struggling with poverty and unemployment. Many are located in remote rural areas, within hours of grocery stores, doctors’ offices, and often cell phone and internet services. Many are crammed into substandard housing and lack transportation and even running water. All of these stressors can lead to unhealthy behaviors, including substance abuse.
“The reasons for the problems of poverty and unemployment in tribal communities stem from historical and systematic failures,” Deplonty said. “The impact of drug addiction on tribal families continues to be a matter of great concern. Drugs have taken loved ones away from their families. Parents have lost children. Children have lost parents. It seems to be a vicious circle that is destined to repeat itself again and again.”
By building relationships of trust and then offering home visits, the Tribal Perinatal Opioid Use Disorder program seeks to break this cycle by providing this extremely vulnerable population of mothers and babies in Michigan with access to needed medical care and resources. , including food and lodging.
“We try to connect families with specialized services and care providers, such as [obstetricians]especially when mothers might deliver addicted babies,” says Deplonty. “UP Health Services – Marquette is currently our only neonatal unit in all of UP.
Harm reduction gives hope to entire families
With offices in Traverse City and Petoskey, Harm Reduction Michigan helps Michiganders with substance use disorders stay alive until they are ready to overcome their addiction. Its services include training organizations and professionals as well as free harm reduction services at drop-in centers in Traverse City and Petoskey. Its director, Pam Lynch, sees drug overdose data in real time, in real lives – and the impact of lost lives on families and communities.
“People use substances as a coping skill,” Lynch says. “The COVID outbreak has created more challenges for people. Many people have had more stressful situations and fewer resources to deal with them. In a number of situations with overdose deaths, according to reports of customers, it was more the loss of jobs due to COVID that made people more desperate. Then other factors add up. For some, if you lose your job, soon after, you will lose your accommodation.
Additionally, Lynch says meth use has increased exponentially. She says many are calling crystal meth the fourth wave of the opioid abuse epidemic. Many people who had opiate problems now have methamphetamine problems. Illegal suppliers cut a lot of methamphetamine – and cocaine – with fentanyl (a deadly synthetic opiate).
“People die of overdoses when in fact they didn’t necessarily even know they were ingesting fentanyl,” Lynch says. “Our overdose deaths are going to continue to rise because, frankly, there isn’t the political will to make some of these changes that need to be made.”
Lynch believes state and local governments need to make a substantial shift in how the SOUTH is run by decriminalizing drug use, creating safe injection sites, and expanding other harm reduction strategies. New York State opened the first safe injection sites in 2021. The Justice Department has indicated it may approve safe injection sites and a call from the National Institutes of Health for research on reducing harm mentions sites among other approaches. Globally, around 100 safe injection sites are saving lives in places like Europe, Canada and Australia.
“We really have to consider how this disease has not been treated by conventional means,” Lynch says. “We really need to consider radical programming and I don’t see that being considered in Michigan at this point.”
Help available online
However, help is available for Michiganders struggling with the SOUTH and those who care about them. The State of Michigan lists a number of opioid epidemic resources on its website. Individuals and organizations can request free naloxone, emergency treatment for opioid overdoses, and training to administer it. The state’s website also shares helplines, treatment options, resources for professionals, an overview of Michigan’s drug laws, and current data on the opioid epidemic.
“We are also investing in getting treatment to emergency departments for people who present with non-fatal overdoses and in harm reduction strategies like needle service programs,” Pinals said.
Additionally, the site promotes the End the Stigma campaign, which encourages Michiganders to change the conversation about SUD. The campaign calls on Michigan residents to reduce stigma and promote social inclusion by treating people with substance use disorders with respect. He encourages people to learn more about mental health issues so they can correct others with misconceptions about TUS and mental illness. Campaign materials state that “people with substance use disorders and people in recovery are more likely to seek addiction treatment and stay sober when they develop social connections. Isolation, discrimination and prejudice are obstacles to social inclusion”.
The state is also working to expand recovery housing, provide technical assistance to treatment providers, and train practitioners to treat SUD. Additionally, the new Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MiCAL) provides phone, chat, and text support to Oakland County and UP residents who are experiencing mental health or addiction crises. A statewide regional rollout is planned by fall 2022.
“Overdose deaths remain a significant concern. Reviewing the data helps us understand where we need to work harder,” says Pinals. “Our pre-pandemic efforts were helping to establish a downward trend, so we are hopeful. We will continue to work on what we think works and develop new strategies as we learn more about the changing trends. substance use.”
A freelance writer and editor, Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellbeing, and the arts. She is the development news editor for Fast growing media and The Tree Amigos chairs, City of Wyoming Tree Commission. Her greatest accomplishment is her five incredible adult children. You can contact Estelle at [email protected] or www.constellations.biz.
Pictures of Pam Lynch by John Russell. All other photos courtesy of sources.