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State health department releases new substance abuse index

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Oscoda County is ranked second in Michigan for populations most vulnerable to substance abuse, according to a newly released substance abuse index.

The index measures how vulnerable a population is to substance abuse. It takes into account overdoses as well as distance from health providers.

Scott Izzo is the community health director and epidemiologist with District Health Department 2. He said people are vulnerable because they live further from clinics and mental health services than in other counties.

“Oscoda is about the same size as a lot of the other counties in the area. But they have a smaller population that’s spread out," he said. "That adds to all of the things kind of putting us over the line and putting us at the higher end of that scale.”

Clare County is ranked as the third most vulnerable county in Michigan. Dr. Jennifer Morse is the medical director of the Central Michigan Health Department, which covers Clare.

Tracking overdoses is a valid way to measure the impact of the opioid epidemic, she said. But substance abuse is a complex issue.

"Not just looking at substance use burden and the resources for substance use, but also looking at that combined with the social vulnerability because those have been shown to have such an impact in individuals, in communities’ ability to combat substance use and to successfully achieve recovery," Morse said.

State health officials said they see the index playing a vital role in developing targeted efforts to help vulnerable individuals. That may include disbursement of Michigan’s share of opioid settlement money, which amounts to nearly $800 million.

Ben Jodway is an intern, serving as a reporter for WCMU Public Media and the Pioneer in Big Rapids. He has covered Indigenous communities and political extremism in Michigan.