Report Examines Suicide and Overdose Deaths in West Michigan and Detroit

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Patient talking to a therapist.
Despite a decrease in opioid prescriptions, overdose deaths in both Detroit and Grand Rapids rose through 2017, as did rates of death by suicide, according to a new report containing Blue Cross membership data. The 11th annual Health Check examines health care trends in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan (KOMA) counties with comparisons to the Detroit region, comprised of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Blue Cross and Blue Care Network provided grants and data for the report. The findings from Health Check, a partnership between Grand Valley State University, Blue Cross and Priority Health, were recently presented at the West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast, held Friday, Jan. 10 at GVSU’s Eberhard Center. For the first time, researchers examined trends related to opioid prescription rates, overdose deaths, suicide deaths and self-reported mental health.
  • Opioid Prescriptions: Prescription rates for opioids have been declining with Detroit down to about 0.76 prescriptions per capita in 2017 and the KOMA region at 0.64 after hitting a high of 1.5 per capita in 2013.
  • Overdose Deaths: Despite the decline in opioid prescriptions, overdose deaths rose for the time period studied. Between 1999 and 2014, both regions experienced growth in their overdose death rate. Since 2014, KOMA has remained steady at around 18 deaths per 100,000 individuals, while “the Detroit region has seen a concerning continued growth within its drug overdose death rate from about 22 (per 100,000) in 2014 up to 34 (per 100,000) in 2017,” a 57% growth rate since 2014. Numbers from 2018 show that drug overdose deaths declined statewide, although a racial disparity exists, disproportionately impacting black residents.
  • Suicide Deaths: From 1999 to 2017, rates of death by suicide have trended upward in both Detroit and KOMA leveling off at 11.8 and 13 deaths (per 100,000) in 2016 and 2017, respectively, in KOMA. “Overall, the Detroit region saw a growth in the suicide rate by 38.4%, where most of the increase has resulted since 2005 to 2006. However, since 2015, the Detroit suicide rate has begun to level slightly below the 2015 rate high.”
Grand Valley researcher and assistant professor Sebastian Linde explained that overdose deaths as presented in the report include all deaths from overdoses, not isolated to deaths from opioids. He said the rise in overdose deaths despite a drop in opioid prescriptions could be an unintended consequence. As people have a harder time getting prescription opioids, they could seek dangerous alternatives, such as heroin. The rise in suicide death rates mirrors a larger statewide and nationwide trend. The Health Check report also contains information about health risks related to drinking, smoking and obesity, as well as information about health care expenditures related to chronic conditions. View the full report here. Read more about mental health issues in Michigan:
Photo credit: Pornpak Khunatorn
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association