Experts discuss “sobering” behavioral health issues and disparities during Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month


Patrick Jones


Earlier this month, Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared September as Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Currently in Michigan, experts are working on reducing barriers to care based on race, slowing down rising rates of overdoses and cases, and continuing to invest in prevention and integrated care. 


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Whitmer’s announcement aimed to raise awareness of systems in place where Michiganders can receive treatment for any substance use disorder (SUD). She said:

“Like other chronic and relapsing diseases … substance abuse disorder can be managed successfully. This Alcohol and Addiction Recovery Month, we recommit ourselves to providing  Michiganders struggling with substance abuse disorders with multiple points of care — from expanded telehealth services to medication-assisted therapies.”

One of the biggest issues right now in providing SUD services is the ongoing workforce shortage, said Allen Jansen, senior deputy director of the Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration (BHDDA) at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). He said staffing shortages have affected every silo of the SUD and behavioral health landscape. 

“The most significant issue in the last month and a half has been the staffing shortage. It first started showing up in our direct care services areas and our residential areas, and now, it is really showing itself in every facet like social work, psychology, administrators, finance directors, and more. We are just seeing a shortage everywhere.”

Another big issue is rising drug overdoses in Michigan, said Larry Scott, director of Recovery Oriented Systems of Care at MDHHS. Scott said there was a significant drop in overdose deaths in Michigan in 2019, but preliminary 2020 data shows a dramatic “spike” in deaths.

Scott said the COVID-19 pandemic plays a role in the rise of deaths due to increased stress, anxiety, and depression and the need to “unfortunately self-medicate” for these mental health disorders. 

Jansen also highlighted the racial barriers and disparities to alcohol and drug abuse treatment. A study conducted by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund from March 2021 found follow-up after emergency department (ED) visits saw large disparities between African-American and White patients. The disparity was found in all counties in Michigan over a three year span. The study also showed an overall decrease in quality of care. The study said:

“For the Follow-up after Emergency Department visit for alcohol and other drug abuse dependence measure, a consistent, large disparity stems across counties and time periods. All counties have a double-digit gap between Black and White patients in all years. Quality of care in all counties is worsening overall, with rates decreasing over time.”

However, Scott said OUD overdose rates in Michigan are a lot lower than in the surrounding area of the Midwest. He said Whitmer’s Michigan Opioid Task Force played a big role in lowering the 2019 numbers. 

The task force incorporates many different stakeholders who serve as an advisory body to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The task force also receives grants from the U.S. HHS. Scott said the task force focuses those grants on prevention, treatment services, and integrating care. 

With this new funding, expanded investments into behavioral health are possible. Jansen said the future plans of BHDDA include development of the certified community behavioral health clinic (CCBHC) program, expansion of the Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MICAL), and the expansion of Medicaid Health Homes.