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Local News

As Michigan’s Life Expectancy Rises, So Too Do Opioid Overdose Deaths

Credit: iStock

Reinette LeJeune

Life expectancy is one of the most important and commonly cited indicators of population health, and in the state of Michigan, those numbers have been on a steady rise. Females saw a 2 year increase since 1990, while males saw a 3.2 year increase, and child mortality rates dropped from 11.9 to 7.2 deaths per 1000 births for children under five years old. 

Between 2009 and 2019, causes of death remained relatively stable, with ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) staying at the top of the list. The biggest change, however, despite life expectancy rising nationwide, were drug use disorders rising by 117.1 percent, passing cirrhosis for the position of tenth highest cause of death in Michigan. 

More than 104,000 people nationwide died of overdoses between September 2020 and September 2021, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to CDC data, in Michigan, 2,933 people died from drug overdoses in that time period, a seven percent increase compared with the 2,741 deaths the previous year. 

Experts have noted that  the majority of overdose deaths in the past year have involved some form of fentanyl, a synthetic and ultra powerful opioid that is becoming more commonly mixed into street drugs of all varieties – and is often, but not always, ingested unknowingly by drug users. 

Recovery experts have said the pandemic has hit people battling addiction twice as hard: fear of spreading infection impacted group meetings, peer support and in-person counseling, which caused higher anxiety and isolation.  According to Marilyn Spiller, a recovering addict and spokesperson for Grand Rapids-based Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers, “For many, recovery is all about group therapy, all about connections, all about community. During the pandemic, the support systems all fell by the wayside.” Since 2011, the number of patients seeking treatment has decreased by 39.9 percent, with only a total of 455 facilities across the state providing recovery services, despite usage and overdose spikes.