The Michigan Opioids Task Force announced a Request for Proposal (RFP) in January for a consultant to develop and lead a new Racial Equity Workgroup within the task force.
The consultant will mainly work to incorporate community voices into the decision making process of the task force and to provide on the ground accounts of the opioid epidemic’s effect on underserved communities.
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The Michigan Opioids Task Force operates as an advisory body within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to assist Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on necessary interventions to combat opioid use in the state.
The task force is continuing to monitor the growing racial disparities in opioid overdose deaths rates, says Jared Welehodsky, senior policy specialist of policy and strategic initiatives at MDHHS.
Welehodsky says the age adjusted overdose death rate for Black residents in 2020 was 43.4 per 100,000, while it was 26.4 per 100,000 for white residents. He says this directly led to the creation of the workgroup and the need for an experienced consultant.
Michele Harper, former director of the Office of Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) at MDHHS—who stepped down earlier this week—, says the goal of this new workgroup is to integrate the voices of the community into the work. She says:
“Inclusion is really important in this work, and to not subscribe or ascribe [solutions to problems] that we might be making assumptions about but really hear what some of the challenges are. Any of the recommendations that come out that drive towards change really will do just that. In order to disrupt and dismantle [unhelpful] practices, we will have to do something different and part of that requires us to include those who we are seeking to provide assistance to.”
According to MDHHS, some of the other goals of the workgroup will be to target needed resources to those experiencing structural discrimination and oppression, eliminate harmful and unjust policies, and create new equity-focused systems and policies to support sustainable and transformational change.
“The Michigan Opioids Task Force was created to quickly respond to growing disparities in our state,” says Elizabeth Hertel, director of MDHHS. “These deaths are tragic, and we want to encourage anyone struggling with substance abuse to seek help. I am proud that our organization is taking swift action to prevent overdose deaths – especially in minority groups who are experiencing higher death rates.”
MDHHS says qualified applicants for the consultant position—which will lead the health equity efforts in the task force—will have at least two years experience as a racial equity consultant or in facilitating community conversations about race and equity.
The consultant will also be tasked to find the structural reasons and mechanisms in place that are causing these opioid health disparities, according to Marisol Rosser, acting director of REDI and MDHHS.
Rosser says data will be very important to the consultant to identify where disparities lie and analyze through the data how those disparities can be mitigated structurally. Harper says the new policies the consultant will bring to the table will need to be sustainable and institute an equity lens on opioid care and access.
Interested applicants must submit their proposals by 5pm EST on Feb. 7. The anticipated start date is March 1.