Drug overdoses surging in Michigan amid pandemic

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Emergency calls for opioid drug overdoses soared 26% from April through June this year compared with the same months a year ago and state officials blame the increase on the stresses of the pandemic. 

Officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday attributed the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic and urged anyone with a substance use disorder to take precautions against overdosing.

“Opioid overdoses kill far too many Michiganders, and it’s a double tragedy that the pandemic has exacerbated this crisis,” Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, Michigan's chief deputy for health and chief medical executive, said in a press release.

“If you or someone you love has an opioid use disorder, please take steps to prevent overdose deaths – like carrying naloxone and never using alone.”

Emergency medical service responses for opioid overdose increased 33% from April to May alone, according to statistics gathered by state health officials.

EMS responses for opioid overdoses increased for all regions and nearly all demographic groups, with the exception of residents aged 65 years and older, according to state data.

The data also revealed people who overdose during the pandemic have been more likely to refuse transport to a hospital. The percentage who declined to go to a hospital from April to June nearly doubled over last year, from 7.7 percent in 2019 to 14.3 percent this year.

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, health officials noted. 

As the pandemic has surged, the state health department has increased access to naloxone and continued to provide clean needles through its Syringe Service Programs, MDHHS said in its press release.

Treatment centers are still open during COVID-19 and are listed online so you can find a center near you. 

If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, health officials urge you to:

  • Access resources to support the mental and physical health of those with substance use disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Contact your primary care provider before you run low on necessary medications; you can find a primary care doctor by contacting a Federally Qualified Health Center in your area.
  • Order Naloxone online to be delivered at no cost to your home; Organizations can request naloxone through the MDHHS online naloxone portal
  • Obtain information on Safer Drug Use during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Avoid using drugs alone by calling Never Use Alone at 800-484-3731; you will be connected to someone who will seek emergency services if you drop off the line or don't respond to a return call.   
  • Find a Syringe Service Program in your area that provides sterile needles, naloxone and other life-saving services.  
  • Call the COVID-19 hotline number at 888-535-6136 and press “8” for free emotional support counseling. Other help lines are listed at Michigan.gov/StayWell, including a peer “warm line” for individuals in distress who want to talk to someone who understands substance use disorders. 


Twitter: @kbouffardDN