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Five takeaways from Michigan's new overdose data drop

People support each other in a rehab session
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Michigan was one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

Michigan is expecting to receive over $1.45 billion from opioid settlements, including an initial $81 million payment scheduled by the end of January.

In preparation of the incoming funds, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services created a new measure to determine which counties are vulnerable to substance use issues — along with a dashboard tracking overdose data.

Here are some key points:

1. Oscoda, Wayne, Clare are Michigan's most vulnerable counties

The math behind pinpointing who needed the most help wasn't always exact.

Marissa Natzke is the project manager for the Michigan Opioid Partnership under the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Natzke said she was excited to see the new Michigan Substance Use Vulnerability Index because before, in decision-making, it was more common to use measures like the overdose rate to determine need.

"It's something that we've always struggled with. Metrics like that don't tell the whole story."

MI-SUVI "takes some of those traditional metrics like overdose death rates, emergency department visit rates, but it also then ties in things like distance to a treatment center," she said.

MI-SUVI balances eight factors in three categories:

  • Substance use burden (looking at numbers like overdose rate, opioid prescribing rate, and more.)
  • Substance use resources (like how many people in a county are a 30-minute drive to a treatment center)
  • Social Vulnerability (The Centers for Disease Control's own measure that looks at social detriments to health, like technology access and healthcare access. Michigan used this measure during the COVID vaccine rollout. )

2. Young women had the highest overdose emergency visit rates in 2020 and 2021

It's a dire trend: Young women ages 11 to 24 saw the highest overdose emergency department visit rates during the pandemic, when compared to other age-sex groups.

Girls between 11 and 14 had the largest increase, at 43% from 2020 to 2021.

Teens and women between 15 and 24 saw the third-largest increase, at 24%.

Among all Michigan residents, the rate increased by 6%.

The majority of the 2021 cases were linked to self-harm — 602 more ER visits for intentional overdoses among girls between 11 and 24 years old than in 2020.

"Female youth are vulnerable to mental health struggles, with nearly half of female high school students in 2019 reporting persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and adolescent females experiencing increases in mental health-related ED visits in 2020 and 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic may have uniquely impacted mental health and substance use of young women," the MDHHS report reads.

Young women were more likely to use painkillers and antidepressants rather than opioids and alcohol.

The report also highlights the opportunity for intervention, stating that the intentional overdose death rate among 11-14 year old girls was "comparatively low" in 2021.

What can you do when you fear someone you know may be considering suicide? It can feel daunting, but suicide prevention experts say we all can help someone at risk by reaching out and showing we care.

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you or someone you know needs help with opioid use disorder.

3. 2022's data isn't complete — but using data through July, it is a bit lower than past years

Through the end of July 2022, there were 1,493 deaths.

By comparison, from January 2020 to July 2020, there were 1,672 deaths. From January 2021 to July 2021, there were 1,831.

4. The number of syringe service programs have tripled since the start of 2019

The Syringe Service Program allows individuals to safely get access or get rid of injection equipment.

The Centers for Disease Control says these programs reduce infections like HIV and do not contribute to increased drug use.

Usage of these sites have seen a dramatic increase in the past few years. For the first quarter of 2019, there were nearly 1,700 primary encounters with the syringe programs. (A primary encounter is when someone directly uses the program, as opposed to secondary encounters, like someone picking up clean syringes for someone else.)

In the last quarter of 2022, there were more than 16,000 encounters.

All the sites, as well as Narcan (which reduces the effects of opioids) vending machines, can be found here and here.

5. Black Michiganders have the highest rate for overdose deaths

Black Michiganders are seeing higher rates of overdose deaths and emergency room visits than their white counterparts.

Black Michiganders saw 85 deaths per 100,000 Black residents from August 2021 to July 2022. That means 759 people died from an overdose.

In comparison, white people saw 39 deaths per 100,000 White Michiganders.

Dr. Kanzoni Asabigi of the Detroit Recovery Project told Michigan Radio in 2021 about his concern about the deaths among Black residents. He said national messaging around the opioid epidemic should be more diverse.

Using 20121 data, Black Michiganders also had 361 visits to the emergency room per 100,000. White people saw 266 per 100,000.

Indigenous people also saw a high rate with 222 visits per 100,000.

Correction: A previous version of the map misidentified a small number of county locations, due to a spreadsheet alignment error. The data associated with each county name was correct.

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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