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The Michigan Opioids Task Force Announces Racial Equity Workgroup To Combat Rising Overdose Deaths in Black, Indigenous and other Communities of Color

(Michigan, USA)—Over 107,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug overdose last year, with rates of fatal overdose rising most rapidly in Black and Indigenous communities. Provisional state data released by Michigan shows that rates of overdose fatalities are also increasing at a faster pace among communities of color compared to their white counterparts. Between September 2021 through August 2022, Black Michiganders died of overdose at 2.2 times greater rate than white Michiganders. In response, the Michigan Opioids Task Force, an advisory body comprised of state government officials convened by Michigan’s chief medical executive, has formed the Racial Equity Workgroup to address growing disparities in overdose deaths among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities across Michigan.    

“We are in a pivotal moment as a state to ensure that we recognize and elevate the voices of communities that have been most impacted. We look forward to working with the Racial Equity Workgroup, Michigan Liberation and Vital Strategies to promote equity centered solutions,” said Maricruz Moya, Racial Equity Initiatives Specialist, Opioids Policy Team at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  

The workgroup is comprised of 15 members who have personal and/or professional experience with public health, drug policy, and harm reduction, especially in BIPOC communities. The workgroup centers the voices of Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and other people of color who have lived experience with drug use, and those in recovery from substance use disorder. The workgroup will meet to accomplish the following goals: 

  • Commit to ongoing learning from BIPOC with lived experience, to analyzing data disaggregated by race and ethnicity, and to working with racial justice advocates on health equity for people who use drugs and others affected by the overdose epidemic 
  • Develop a strategic action plan using key findings and lessons from the Workgroup to guide the Task Force in developing a state opioid strategy and transforming systems to be more racially equitable 
  • Act as an accountability partner to the Task Force by supporting racially equitable actions and challenging racially inequitable actions 

Ultimately, the Racial Equity Workgroup will produce a set of recommendations for the Michigan Opioids Taskforce. The workgroup will be supported by a team from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Vital Strategies, Michigan Liberation, and Reframe Health and Justice. Team members from Michigan Liberation and Reframe Health and Justice will co-facilitate and lead workgroup meetings.  Vital Strategies, a global public health organization, is supporting the development and implementation of the workgroup sessions through funding the community organizations Michigan Liberation and Reframe Health and Justice.

“Michigan Liberation is excited to be a consultant for the REWG. When looking for candidates around the state, it was important for us to have a majority BIPOC REWG. We believe those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions but further from the resources and power,” said Ash Daniels, Lead Organizer On Care Not Criminalization, Michigan Liberation. “Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have been affected by high levels of overdose, low levels of resources, and over-policing since before Nixon’s war on drugs. Racism, stigma, and shame are deadly. It is important for us to uplift the voices of those directly impacted, to bring their solutions to the government, and hold the government accountable for implementing these recommendations. It will be a step closer to ending stigma and systemic racism. It will help to save thousands of people’s lives.”

Workgroup members include:

  • Mona Abdallah-Hijazi (she/her), Community Engagement Manager who leads the ACCESS Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) Community Coalition and works with Syrian Refugees in the Building Blocks for New Americans Program. 
  • Audrey Anderson (she/her), Retired registered nurse who has worked in various areas of the healthcare industry including community health, and a trained community organizer. 
  • Banashee (Joe) Cadreau (he/him), Enrolled member of the federally recognized Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and community advocate for Anishinaabe people, and all Indigenous people throughout this country and globally. 
  • Mike Broman (he/him), PhD candidate at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work, a person in long-term recovery, and substance use treatment practitioner and researcher. 
  • Bryce Cobb III (he/him), Social entrepreneur, mental health/emotional wellness advocate from Detroit, and partnerships coordinator for the nonprofit The Phoenix  
  • Deborah Garrett (she/her), Certified Peer Recovery Mentor, Certified Prevention Specialist, and person in long-term recovery who provides oversight to Federally-funded programs including A Recovery Community Services-Statewide Network grant. 
  • Hazel Gómez (she/her), Faith-based community organizer with the nonprofit Dream of Detroit, and advisor and board member to various nonprofits ranging from convert care and anti-racism work to bail reform. 
  • Alexandria Hughes (she/her), Organizer at Michigan Liberation and part of the leadership team at Accountability for Dearborn. 
  • Kent D. Key, PhD, MPH (he/him), Assistant Professor of Public Health and a Health Disparities Researcher at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Division of Public Health, Executive Deputy Director of the Community Based Organization Partners (CBOP) and Founder of CBOP’s Community Ethics Review Board (CERB). 
  • Dani Meier (he/him), Clinical social worker, cultural geographer, Chief Clinical Officer at Mid-State Health Network, and Chair of Michigan’s Substance Use Disorder Services (SUDS) Directors. 
  • Jose Salinas (he/him), State of Michigan Certified Peer Recovery Coach with the Kent County CMH Network180/Access Center, and person in long-term recovery. 
  • Margaret Smith (she/her), Registered Nurse who leads the Harm Reduction program Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula. 
  • Teresa Springer (she/her), Director of Operations at Wellness Services. 
  • Dr. Courtney Denise Townsel, MD, MSc (she/her), Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan, and Associate Chair of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 
  • Sheyonna Watson (she/her), Licensed minister involved in public health for over 17 years working in various roles such as prevention specialist and HIV test counselor, medical case manager, Tobacco Treatment Specialist, health educator, and public health consultant. 

To learn more about the Michigan Opioids Taskforce and to see the complete bios of task force members, please visit this link

Media Contact: Tony Newman:; 646-335-5384   

About Michigan Department of Health and Human Services 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is located in all 83 Michigan counties and provides a variety of services to the residents. MDHHS provides opportunities, services, and programs that promote a healthy, safe, and stable environment for residents to be self-sufficient. The MDHHS mission is to develop and encourage measurable health, safety, and self-sufficiency outcomes that reduce and prevent risks, promote equity, foster healthy habits, and transform the health and human services system to improve the lives of Michigan families.  

About Michigan Opioids Task Force 

Under the umbrella of MDHHS, the Michigan Opioids Task Force was created by Governor Whitmer in August 2019 to align departmental efforts at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to address the opioid epidemic in the state of Michigan. The task force is comprised of internal state government officials and tasked with providing policy recommendations to the Director of MDHHS and coordinating departmental activities. In addition, the task force convenes a Stakeholder Advisory Group which includes key stakeholders from academia, insurers, health care and substance use treatment providers, local philanthropy, community organizations, court officials, law enforcement, state lawmakers and individuals with lived experience.  

About Michigan Liberation 

Michigan Liberation is a statewide network of organizations and people organizing to end the criminalization of Black families and communities of color in Michigan. We envision a state without mass incarceration, mass policing, and punishment. We envision a state with the best public education in the nation, single-payer healthcare, and thriving Black and Brown communities. Michigan Liberation is a grassroots organization dedicated to ending mass incarceration and transforming the criminal legal system by implementing effective campaigns and the leadership development of directly impacted people. Since 2018, Michigan Liberation has been organizing and pushing its vision for a more liberated people and state. 

About Reframe Health and Justice 

Reframe Health and Justice supports organizations and movements in deepening their practices of care, compassion, and collaboration. Guided by the principles of healing-centered harm reduction we help organizations with heart live into their missions through: Organizational strategy and planning, capacity building for service providers, policy and advocacy and tools for movements. 

About Vital Strategies 

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our overdose prevention program works to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to create equitable and sustainable reductions in overdose deaths. Work across seven U.S. States is supported by funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative, launched in 2018, and by targeted investments from other partners. 

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