LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Sparrow Hospital recently released their annual drug report, and there were some jarring numbers.

The mid-Michigan area saw a big jump last year in a category where you don’t want to see it.

Opioid-related deaths are up 22 percent according to Sparrow hospital’s 2020 annual drug report.

“With the onset of COVID I think what happened is a lot of the gaps and cracks in our system of care were exposed,” said Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, the Associate Dean of Public Health Integration at Michigan State University.

Furr-Holden said the sad thing is: we were trending in the right direction before the pandemic set things back.

“The Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid overdose and opioid use and misuse a national epidemic in 2017,” Furr-Holden said. “Following that declaration they rolled out massive resources, good, strong evidence-based strategies to turn the tide on that pandemic and then, in fact, the year following we saw our first decrease in opioid deaths in 20 years.”

But then, the pandemic hit.

“COVID-19 was actually the flashlight that shined the light on our problems,” Furr-Holden said.  

Furr-Holden is also on the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

And she said that flashlight showed those who have less have been suffering more with substance abuse during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen disproportionate increases in overdoses in underserved communities and that’s both related to race and economics.”

“If you had the kind of job where you could just convert to Zoom, you could still maintain employment and keep the lights on. If you didn’t have that type of job going into the pandemic you’ve now got the added stress of trying to figure out how to sustain yourself and your family.”

But Michigan has proven there are measures you can take.

“So the first thing is you have to have a real reckoning with the truth of both your history and your present,” said Furr-Holden.

“Michigan was one of the first states to transparently report on our disparities, and we’re also the only state that I know of that closed the gap on COVID cases and deaths for African Americans.”

Even though Coronavirus cases are rising in Michigan, the state has now administered 4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

So as we prepare for a world that hopefully has much less COVID, what can we do to help those suffering from addiction?

“I think it’s important to get our system of care ‘sured’ up, so people should be able to get all the services that are needed to support not just preventions of problems, but also to support people in their recovery process,” said Furr-Holden.

“I think for people to recover they also need the appropriate types of support. employment opportunities, housing opportunities and some of those other things.”

Furr-Holden said COVID-19 gave us an opportunity to do some reflection, and what we do next will be the real tell of whether or not we spark the change many want to see.