Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sparrow report shows decrease in drug-related deaths in local counties

September 30, 2022
<p>The exterior of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, on Sept. 23, 2020.</p>

The exterior of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, on Sept. 23, 2020.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Fewer people in Ingham and Eaton counties are dying of drug overdoses, Sparrow Forensic Pathology revealed in a quarterly report

The organization, which serves as the Office of the Medical Examiner, or OME, for Eaton, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella and Shiawassee counties, provides complete death investigation and forensic pathology services for this region.

According to the report, which covered April 1 to June 30, Sparrow defines drug deaths as “those which result entirely or partially from the physiologic effects of acute toxicity. Therefore, it includes deaths which resulted from a combination of natural disease and acute intoxication.” 

Their report does not include deaths by substance-related violence or deaths related to the effects of chronic substance use if not combined with acute toxicity. 

Sparrow found that total drug‐related deaths decreased by 33%, or 20 cases, in the five counties studied compared to the same time period in 2021.

There are many possibilities for the drop, MSU assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology Jamie Alan told The State News.

“(One) possibly is, what I hope is happening, that we are increasing awareness and increasing treatment options for people who are suffering from substance use disorders,” Alan said. “One resource that I am a part of is MI Cares, where we work to educate medical students, physicians, and, just, educators on addressing the addiction crisis that is just so prevalent. It’s resources like that, I think, that can contribute to the decrease in drug deaths that we’re seeing here.”

Alan pointed out that the pandemic has severely increased drug use over the past three years. She said that this increase may seem contradictory to Sparrow’s report because the pathology service only reports deaths – not addiction.

“With COVID, we saw a huge spike in the number of individuals who turned to drugs,” Alan said. “Unfortunately, what we continue to see today, is that this addiction and chronic drug use is growing in families and just feeding into the substance abuse crisis.”

The report also found that male accidental deaths totaled 20, while female accidental deaths totaled 12. Alan said she would like to see the numbers for those who didn't identify as man or woman, such transgender or non-binary victims.

“I’m not sure how Sparrow collects that data, in regard to accounting for nonbinary or transgender individuals,” Alan said. “But (transgender individuals) are unfortunately at a higher risk for drug and substance abuse, and that may not be reflected (in the report). Again, though, I don’t know if that data takes into account all genders or how accurate that distinction may be.”

With Sparrow reporting that there were death decreases in drugs such as opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, amphetamine and benzodiazepine, Alan said that this may also relate to access.

“Obviously, there are different access points for drugs such as methadone versus, like, crack cocaine,” she said. “But if we’re seeing an overall decrease in drug deaths, I hope that a possibility for this relates to limits to access that may be put in place by local addiction organizations or county projects.”

According to Sparrow, for all-county drug class occurrences in drug-related deaths, opioids saw the highest number, at 33 deaths. 

Similarly, Alan said that the opioid crisis is very much ongoing and an issue that needs immediate attention.

Ingham County, which saw roughly 20 opioid deaths, offers the Ingham Opioid Abuse Prevention Initiative, or IOAPI, as a resource.

The group, which includes health officials, health providers, substance abuse treatment specialists, non-profit members, law enforcement and other first responders, aims to reduce overdose fatality in the community, as well as the stigma associated with substance use. 

IOAPI focuses on increasing the accessibility to resources and care for those in need, and also provides yearly “surveillance reports” tracking drug trends; they have yet to release a report for 2022. 

“Something I think is so important is expanding these available resources and focusing our efforts on awareness,” Alan said. “That these groups are an avenue people can use, whether they suffer from substance abuse, or know someone that does.”

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