Drug overdose deaths increased by 20 percent in MN last year after declining in 2018

Preliminary data show a substantial increase in overdose deaths, especially among synthetic opioids and psychostimulant drugs.
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Synthetic opioids like fentanyl account for the largest number of deaths.

Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota increased last year, reversing the improvements seen in 2018, according to preliminary data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)

The number of drug overdose deaths increased 20 percent, from 636 deaths in 2018 to 761 deaths in 2019, MDH said Tuesday.  

"While this was a substantial increase from 2018, overdoses continued a steady long-term trend of increasing," MDH said in a news release. "This increased total was 4 percent greater than what was seen in 2017 – the state’s previous highest total."

The number of drug overdoses in Minnesota from 2000-2019 across the state, in the seven-county metro area and greater Minnesota.

The number of drug overdoses in Minnesota from 2000-2019 across the state, in the seven-county metro area and greater Minnesota.

There were 483 drug overdose deaths in the seven-county metro area in 2019, more than the 276 people in greater Minnesota who died from a drug overdose last year. This continues a trend the state has seen since 2000, the preliminary report says.

Opioids account for majority of overdose deaths

Commonly prescribed opioids, up until 2017, made up the greatest number of overdose deaths in Minnesota, but deaths associated with prescription opioids started decreasing in 2018 and the trend continued in 2019, MDH said. 

Now, synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, make up the greatest number of overdose deaths. 

The number of deaths caused by these types of drugs increased by 48 percent from 2018 to 2019, with most deaths involving fentanyl. Of the 298 synthetic opioid deaths last year, 97 percent (288 deaths) had fentanyl listed as a contributing factor on the person's death certificate. 

A look at the number of drug overdose deaths by drug category.

A look at the number of drug overdose deaths by drug category.

Other opioids and methadone accounted for 136 overdose deaths last year, while heroin-related deaths remained level compared to 2018, with 102 reported in 2019. 

Following the trend of opioid-related overdose deaths, the number of emergency department visits for opioid-involved overdoses also went up, increasing from 1,949 in 2018 to 2,823 in 2019, data show.

Psychostimulants and other drugs

The number of people who died after taking a psychostimulant drug like methamphetamine increased "substantially" last year, going up by 37 percent from 2018 to 2019, MDH said.

In MDH's Drug Overdose Deaths among Minnesota Residents 2000-2018 report released last year, it noted deaths related to non-opioids have been increasing, with trends in psychostimulant-involved overdose deaths nearly matching synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths. 

At the time, MDH said the increase in these types of drug overdose deaths calls for overdose prevention strategies with a broader focus. In recent years, overdose prevention has been focused on opioids due to the rise in people abusing and becoming addicted to the drug thanks to the increase in painkiller prescriptions nationwide.

Meanwhile, benzodiazepine-involved deaths also went up by 19 percent compared to 2018 and cocaine-involved deaths remained steady, with 54 deaths in 2018 and 58 deaths in 2019. Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat things like anxiety, panic attacks and depression. 

The data in MDH's report is preliminary and could change when numbers are finalized, however it doesn't expect the overall trend to change. 

MDH's final report on drug overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2019 is expected to be released in the fall. Data from this year is not available yet.

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