Overdose deaths decline in Michigan for first time in 6 years

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LANSING (WJRT) (11/22/2019) - The number of overdose deaths in Michigan declined in 2018 for the first time in six years.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 2,599 overdose deaths in 2018, including 2,036 were caused by opioid drugs.

Those figures represent an decrease of 3.2% from the 2,686 overdose deaths reported in 2017 and a 0.8% decrease from the 2,053 opioid overdose deaths that year. Those decreases are the first since 2012.

“This is a step in the right direction. However, there is much work to be done, particularly when it comes to disparities and access to treatment,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive and chief deputy for health.

Officials attribute the decline in overdose deaths to fewer cases involving heroin and semi-synthetic drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. However, deaths caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl are climbing.

The Department of Health and Human Services also noted racial disparities in 2018's overdose death figures.

Among whites, the overdose rate decreased by 6.5% while the opioid overdose rate fell by 5%. However, the overdose mortality rate among blacks increased 14.1% and the opioid overdose rate increased 19.9%.

Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, said authorities are seeking rehabilitation for drug users with the Angel Program and aggressively targeting drug traffickers around the state to reduce the flow of illegal drugs.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also formed a statewide Michigan Opioids Task Force to build a plan that will continue driving down the state's overdose death rates.