'It tears apart families.' Michigan grapples with rise in opioid overdoses amid pandemic

Posted at 2:09 PM, Jul 29, 2021

(WXYZ) — Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts and advocates feared the isolation would lead to an increase in substance abuse. Just this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data, showing that the pandemic led to the largest yearly increase of overdose deaths in U.S. history.


"Don't ever think 'not my kid,' because it’s a lot of people's kids,” said John St. Pierre.

Monday marks 2 years since John lost his oldest son, Alex. Alex was just one day shy of his 25th birthday when he died from a drug overdose.

"You don't realize how much it tears apart families. A death in the family tears people apart, but this is just ... on so many levels, just terrorizing. You feel helpless,” said John.

Alex’s death came as a shock to his family, especially since his battle was largely hidden, even from his closest friends.

“He always put on the face of, ‘I'm fine, I'm fine, everything's good, I'm fine.' And clearly he wasn’t,” said Alex's friend Tyler Bettelon.

Alex was one of nearly 2,400 people in Michigan that year who died from a drug overdose. But the following year, in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns, that number saw a dramatic rise.

“It’s the highest death rate we’ve ever seen in the United States, and for me, an increase of one death is too many,” said Linda Davis, executive director of Families Against Narcotics.


Linda says the pandemic not only kept people isolated at home, but also limited in-person treatment services. That combination led to a 16 percent increase in overdose deaths in Michigan, and a 30 percent increase across the country.

Courtesy MDHHS

On top of overdose deaths, overdose EMS runs also saw a dramatic rise. In Michigan, EMS runs where naloxone was administered were up 17 percent, with just over 12,000 runs statewide.

Courtesy MDHHS

"We lost 93,000 people last year to overdose deaths, we need to start looking at addiction with the same urgency as we did with COVID or any other disease,” she said.

The pandemic also led to the largest increase in alcohol sales in nearly 20 years, and as employees leave their homes to head back into the workplace, some may be fighting new addiction.

“I think it’s going to take us years to get back on track now, unfortunately,” said Linda.

But in the midst of this crisis comes an effort to fight it. Soon after the pandemic started, Alex’s friends and family started the Alex's Saints Foundation, raising awareness and raising funds, which hours before this interview helped place another young adult into a rehab facility.

“Now Alex is sending saints down from heaven to help these young adults who are going through the same situation,” said Tyler.

"There’s no other way to honor his memory, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the foundation,” said John.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, there are resources that can help:

Alex's Saints Foundation resources
Families Against Narcotics resources
Click here for a list of harm reduction services near you