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Drug overdose deaths increased 18 percent in Michigan from 2015 to 2016, according to provisional data released Thursday by state health officials.

There were 2,335 drug-related deaths statewide in 2016, compared with 1,981 in 2015, and most were related to opioids. The data was collected from Michigan death certificates and could change if more records are turned in, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

“This battle is still needing to be fought,” Dr. Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said of the epidemic of drug overdose deaths that claimed 52,404 lives nationally in 2015. Of those, 33,091 deaths were related to opioids, about 63 percent.

“It’s continuing to take lives and cause so much harm,” Wells added. “But the whole state is coming together with multiple initiatives to fight this.”

Michigan ranked 16th nationally when measuring the rate of drug-related deaths in 2015, the latest year for such data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 2,335 overdose deaths in the state in 2016, officials said 1,689 were opioid-related, up from 1,275 in 2015.

Multiple state and local initiatives have been launched to prevent opioid-related deaths and raise public awareness of the dangers of opioid medications such as heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone, which can suppress breathing and stop the heart.

A life-saving antidote for opioid overdose, naloxone, became available to the public in April under a statewide standing order issued by Wells that allowed pharmacists to dispense the medication without prescription. Available in several forms including a nasal spray, naloxone also can reverse the effects of super-powerful drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil that often are mixed with heroin and have resulted in many deaths.

“Now we have naloxone in 25 percent of Michigan pharmacies,” Wells said. That’s 700 pharmacies across the state.

Local health departments have been providing naloxone to law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency personnel, community groups and family members.

“We have trained over 2,000 people including dozens of Wayne County law enforcement agencies, Michigan State Police, clergy, drug treatment providers and members of the public,” said Brooke Blackwell, spokeswoman for the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. “There have been 58 lives saved (with naloxone).”

Communities also are collecting unused opioid medications at dropboxes at police stations and other locations to get them out of the hands of people who might take them and become addicted. The Detroit News reported Wednesday that opioid prescription increased in a quarter of Michigan counties between 2010 and 2015, according to recent study from the CDC.

The overprescription of opioids is considered a major driver of the overdose epidemic nationwide, since patients can become addicted even under a doctor’s supervision. Because of an overabundance of pills, people are taking opioids that were prescribed to others — often friends and relatives — and then getting addicted.

More than 20,000 pounds of drugs were returned in the state on National Drug Take Back Day on April 29, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Another 600 pounds were turned in at Michigan State Police posts.

There are roughly 46 sites in Wayne County alone where individuals can drop off unwanted or expired Rx drugs. Additionally, the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has 15 Rx Drug Drop Off Boxes that are made available, free of charge to local law enforcement agencies.

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority also produced a 30-minute video, “Accessing Mental Healthcare in My Community,” to help people learn how to access mental health and substance disorder treatment. And they set up a hotline, at (800) 241-4949, for people to call 24/7 to find help.

“The addiction epidemic continues to take lives and hurt families in every corner of our state and our country,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in a press release Thursday. “While many initiatives are underway to address this crisis, it’s clear that we have to work harder to reverse this tragic trend.

“Working together on treatment and prevention efforts will ultimately lead to more second chances and fewer funerals.”

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

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