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1,762 people died from drug overdoses in Michigan in 2014 alone.


The Centers for Disease Control released new statistics Friday on drug overdose deaths in the U.S. The numbers may not be surprising to anyone who's followed our reporting, but they are still shocking. According to the CDC, 1,762 people died from drug overdoses in Michigan alone in 2014. And that's a 13.2% increase over 2013. 

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. were already at epidemic levels, according to the CDC. These new statistics show the problem got even worse in 2014, not better. 

Michigan has been especially hard hit in this epidemic. Our state had the 7th most overdose deaths in the nation in 2014. And while the toll here has been substantial, the national figures are staggering. The CDC writes

More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses. In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes (4). Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths.

Nearly half a million deaths. That's about how many Americans died in battle during World War I, World War II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War and Desert Storm combined

And, as we've reported before, most of these deaths come from opiates. Increasingly, the deaths come from heroin. And most of that can be tracedback to prescription painkillers, according to the CDC:

Drug overdose deaths involving heroin continued to climb sharply, with heroin overdoses more than tripling in 4 years. This increase mirrors large increases in heroin use across the country (5) and has been shown to be closely tied to opioid pain reliever misuse and dependence. Past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for heroin initiation and use, specifically among persons who report past-year dependence or abuse (5). The increased availability of heroin, combined with its relatively low price (compared with diverted prescription opioids) and high purity appear to be major drivers of the upward trend in heroin use and overdose (6).

The only positive thing I can think to say about this report is that the numbers here don't reflect the policy changes many states and local governments have put in place over the past year. The greater availability of Naloxone to reverse an opiate overdose is a big one. Already, Naloxoneis saving lives. Perhaps, we'll see the number of overdose deaths go down when the 2015 numbers are released. That would be a good sign. But it won't mean the opiate epidemic is over. We've got a long way to go before anyone will be able to say that. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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