Heroin Overdose Deaths on the Rise in Michigan

By McCarton Ackerman 08/04/15

The numbers spiked again after years of steady decline.

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Heroin overdose deaths have quadrupled across the U.S. in recent years, but new data is showing that the ongoing problem is especially prevalent in Michigan, where overdose death rates have actually surpassed the staggering national increase.

The overdose deaths have increased nearly five-fold in Michigan since 2002. A total of 225 people died from heroin in the state in 2013, up from 46 in 2002. While drug overdose deaths overall had been steadily declining throughout Michigan since 2009, the numbers spiked again by 18% in 2013, with 1,533 in total.

Last April, three people in Macomb County died from heroin overdoses within a 24-hour period. Monroe County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Kemp confirmed that all three men injected themselves with heroin and were killed immediately. Heroin overdose deaths are also now averaging one per day in Muskegon County, with many of these deaths involving heroin laced with fentanyl.

"They're cutting that with powder in the form of fentanyl and injecting that into their arm all at once," said Andy Fias, section commander for the West Michigan Enforcement Team. "We are seeing more of the overdose deaths with heroin laced with fentanyl. It's attributed to more deaths. We are just starting to see this unravel.

A bill was passed last October that will allow naloxone to be obtained via prescription, in addition to Good Samaritan laws that will eliminate potential criminal prosecution for anyone who administers the drug in good faith. All emergency technicians throughout the state now carry it on their ambulances as well.

"Most of my friends that I started using with are dead. People who die from overdose are never going to recover from using drugs,” said Brandon Hool, a former heroin addict from Michigan who has been clean for five years. “Naloxone is an effort to keep people alive for the value of their life right now. It also gives them the opportunity for recovery at some point in the future."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.