Drug-related deaths across five counties up 70% from last year

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)– A new report released by Sparrow Hospital shows a significant increase in drug-related deaths between 2019 and 2020.

In quarter 2 (April 1 through June 30, 2020) there was a 30.2 percent increase in deaths from the same time in 2019. In quarter 3, however, total drug-related deaths from July 1 to Sept. 30 increased by a staggering 70 percent from the same time last year.

The numbers include five counties for which Sparrow Hospital serves as the medical examiner. They include Ingham County, Eaton, Shiawassee, Isabella, and Ionia.

“Some of our counties actually have no drug deaths. We have Ionia County has no drug deaths for this quarter, last quarter they had 4 so we’re down exponentially on there,” said Michelle Fox, Chief Investigator for the Office of the Medical Examiner and Supervisor of Forensic Pathology at Sparrow Hospital.

Fox said the biggest increase in deaths were related to opioids and fentanyl. The good news, she said, it the 2020 Q3 numbers are down from Q2.

“We’re hoping to see them going down once you know, vaccines are out and we’re seeing things opening up and people being able to leave home. We’re hoping to see our numbers go down regardless of how that occurs.”

Fox added that the Office of the Medical Examiner works with multiple agencies to discuss initiatives to prevent opioid abuse. While she isn’t able to speculate on the reasoning behind the dramatic increase, Corey Warren, President of Rise Recovery in Lansing said the most obvious cause is likely the pandemic.

There’s a lot of free time. A lot of us have been laid off of work, so there’s not a lot going on and then we’re getting a lot of stimulus packages and unemployment money so, we have money coming in with nothing to do and I think it’s causing people to maybe dabble into drugs, alcohol so on and so forth,” Warren said.

While substance abuse effects adults of all ages, he added, that it’s also becoming something younger people are turning to.

“Even going back to high school I spoke with a local principal who said that even in the first shutdown that we experienced he was seeing beer cans on the side of the road and so we’re seeing it even in teenagers,” Warren said.

Having struggled with addiction himself, he said he appreciates what some lawmakers are doing to try and help.

“I think that the state as a whole right now is doing a really good job to tackle a lot of those barriers and fund more organizations to do the work that’s necessary.”

Although the pandemic has changed the way some organizations offer help, Warren said there is still help out there.

“It’s about making that decision. It’s about taking that first step and having the courage to do that and to turn your life around and that’s… it can be very terrifying but it also is so beautiful once that person enters into recovery. Life is just… since I got sober has been amazing and it can be for anybody.”

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