Michigan reports opioid overdose calls are up 26% during pandemic

After showing signs of improving last year, Michigan's opioid overdose rate has spiked during the pandemic.

The state health department has reported a substantial increase in calls related to the number of overdoses linked to painkillers and other drugs since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Only a year after reporting a slight decrease in the number of overdose deaths, the rate of overdoses that emergency medical services responded to rose 33% from April to May in 2020. The frequency of responses from April through June was also 26% higher than they were during the same period in 2019.

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

In November last year, Michigan reported its first decline in overdose deaths in six years. Across all demographics, the rate of fatalities fell 3.2% from 2017.

But in a press release sent Wednesday, health officials reported opioid overdoses increased for "for all regions and nearly all demographic groups." The only age group that didn't see an increase were residents ages 65 and older.

For a state that had lobbied $10 million in philanthropic grants to fight the epidemic, the steep increase in new deaths represents a worrying trend amid the pandemic, which has already exasperated most sectors of the health care industry.

All published in the press release were insights in how the pandemic has impacted efforts to slow overdoses. The percentage of people declining transports to emergency departments was from April to June in 2020 doubled from 2019. Data has shown many are hesitant to enter hospitals due to concerns of transmission from COVID-19.

RELATED: Michigan overdose deaths down first time in six years, but not among African Americans

Despite the positive data published last year, there were parts that weren't so encouraging. The rate of overdose deaths actually increased for African American populations in 2019, which rose 14.7%, while overdose deaths fell 6.5% for white residents. 

The racial disparity on display last year in regards to health care access and affordability was magnified during the pandemic. Black residents saw a higher rate of infection and death from the coronavirus than white residents during Michigan's March and April outbreak.

That same disparity became amplified in the state's overdose death rates this year as well. Emergency medical personnel responded to overdose deaths for Black residents at a rate close to double that of white residents. 

"The average monthly rate of EMS responses for opioid overdoses among black residents was 219.8 per 100,000 residents, as compared to 123.4 among white residents between April and June."