By Sara Powers

LANSING, Mich (AP) — A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers announced a package of bills Wednesday to curb opioid overdose deaths in the state, which experts say spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement came during a media conference to mandate supportive practices in hospitals and increase access to life-saving medications.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the state had seen some success in reducing the number of opioid-related deaths, even making it a goal to cut the number of deaths in half by 2024. In 2019, opioid-related overdose deaths decreased by 13.2% from 2018, according to the state. However, from January to June of 2020, opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 20% from the same months in 2019, from 874 to 1,045 deaths.

An average of five people a day died from an opioid overdose in 2019, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical officer.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic means we’ve had to fight two crises at the same time, and early data, unfortunately, suggests that we actually saw an increase in overdoses in 2020,” Khaldun said. “These deaths are absolutely tragic, but they are preventable as well.”

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One bill in the package expands access to Naloxone, a drug used to reverse an opioid overdose, for community organizations.

Anxiety and isolation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic likely led to the increase of opioid-related overdose deaths seen in 2020, Rep. Mary Whiteford said. As a former pediatric emergency nurse, Whiteford said she has administered Naloxone and has listened to families who have lost their loved ones to overdoses who desperately prayed for the second chance the life-saving drug can provide.

Another one of the bills seeks to end the cycle of those who’ve overdosed from overdosing again by requiring hospitals to establish medication-assisted treatment and develop partnerships with community-based programs to reduce overdose deaths and the need for acute care. Hospitals would receive financial support to create and implement protocols.

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