Deaths of Minnesotans from excessive alcohol use rose in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is partly to blame.
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Nearly 1,000 Minnesotans died from alcohol use in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic likely playing a factor in the increased number of alcohol-related deaths. 

That's according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which on Thursday released preliminary data on preventable deaths from alcohol use for last year. 

MDH says 992 people died in 2020 from alcohol use last year, noting preliminary data suggests factors related to the pandemic "may have boosted a decades-long trend of increasing numbers of alcohol-attributable deaths in Minnesota."

“The deaths of so many Minnesotans from alcohol is tragic and preventable,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “Sadly, the pandemic has amplified some of the root causes of substance use and substance use disorders, such as social isolation, job loss and lack of access to treatment.

"In response, we need to strengthen overall opportunities in our communities for connectedness and financial security as well as specific evidence-based community strategies to reduce excessive alcohol use.”

From 2000 to 2010, the number of fully alcohol-attributable deaths increased by one-third. And they more than doubled between 2010 to 2020. 

MDH says deaths from alcohol use in 2020 mirrored similar trends in recent years until June, when the number of alcohol-related deaths started to accelerate. That acceleration is believed to be due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In 2020, we saw that after May, alcohol-related deaths continued to stay elevated and 171 more Minnesotans died in 2020 compared to 2019, which is a larger jump than the trend prior to the pandemic,” said Kari Gloppen, MDH alcohol epidemiologist. "Studies show that excessive drinking affects your brain, heart, liver, digestive system and even your immune system. Alcohol is also a carcinogen that has been linked to several types of cancer.”

MDH says the preliminary data underestimates the impact of alcohol use on deaths in Minnesota because it only includes fully alcohol-attributable deaths (only deaths that would not have happened if alcohol wasn't involved) and does not include partially alcohol-attributable causes of death (when alcohol is one of several factors contributing to a person's death). 

These deaths are preventable, MDH says, noting a task force has recommended several strategies to reduce excessive drinking. Among them: increase the price of alcohol; regulate the number and concentration of places in a community that sell alcohol; consistent enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors; electric screening and brief intervention to reduce excessive alcohol use. 

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