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After another jump in opioid deaths, sheriff's office introduces #NOverdose effort

The CDC says more than 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription painkillers.

In Hennepin County last year, 144 people died from some sort of opioid – either an illegal street drug such as heroin, or a prescription painkiller like Vicodin, OxyContin, or Percocet.

While that number could move a bit (toxicology tests are still pending in some cases), the sheriff's office says that's about a 31 percent jump in fatalities from 2015. And that's been the recent trend, each year bringing more and more opioid deaths. Just since 2011, there have been nearly 600 opioid-related deaths in the county, with victims anywhere from 16 to 98 years old.

"Every one of the opioid related deaths last year could have been prevented," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said in a news release. "We can’t arrest our way out of this epidemic, which is why we’re focusing on county-wide prevention."

Stanek and the sheriff's office Tuesday – after revealing the number of opioid deaths in 2016 – introduced a new, yearlong drug prevention campaign called #NOverdose.

The goal is to build a coalition of forces across the county – schools, law enforcement, elected officials, community members and groups – to help educate people about the dangers of drug use. Some high schools have already agreed to host town halls, the sheriff's office said.

Heroin and opioid use is on the rise in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. Last March, the White House announced it’d take steps to address the "epidemic."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin use among people between 18-25 has more than doubled in the past decade. And fatal overdoses have nearly quadrupled from 2002-2013.

The connection to prescription drugs

Right now the sheriff's office has nine medicine collection boxes throughout the county, and last year destroyed more than 22,000 pounds of medication.

But they're hoping to give people more option for 2017, by working with cities to provide more prescription drug collection opportunities.

Why? Prescription opioids (like Vicodin, OxyContin, or Percocet) have been blamed for a rise in overdose deaths, because addicts will often switch to a street opioid – heroin.

The CDC says more than 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription painkillers. The agency issued new recommendations for doctors that consider prescribing opioids to patients with chronic pain. It includes only prescribing the smallest effective dose, and closely monitoring patients who use them.

"This is not just a big city problem," Eden Prairie Police Chief James DeMann said in the sheriff's office announcement. "Prevention is key, I ask everyone to get rid of old medications and properly secure current medications to prevent prescription drug abuse."

Drug use in Minnesota in 2015

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows there were 572 drug overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2015 – that was up 11 percent from 2014, when there were 516. (The department hasn't released the full 2016 numbers yet, so these are the most recent annual figures available.)

More than half of the deaths were due to prescription medications rather than street drugs.

Opioid pain relievers were the leading drug associated with death in Minnesota at 216, followed by heroin at 114. Meanwhile 78 were due to stimulants such as methamphetamines.

In the Twin Cities specifically, this report found that heroin and methamphetamine were the biggest problem drugs in 2015.

Getting help

There are resources within Minnesota and the U.S. to get help if you're struggling with addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a website that shows residential, outpatient and hospital inpatient treatment program locations.

And the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) also offers help, and can connect people with resources nearby.

The National Institute of Health has more options here, as well as a guide of what to do if a friend or loved one has a substance abuse problem.

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