Skip to main content

Here's why a 'disease detective' says MN is not counting all the opioid deaths

A Minnesota study reveals a pitfall in tabulating opioid deaths.

We've been hearing a lot about opioid overdose deaths becoming much more common in Minnesota – and the rest of the country – in recent years.

But at a conference this week of health researchers nicknamed the "disease detectives" there was a sobering message based on cases from Minnesota: we're not counting all the opioid deaths because some are being listed as unexplained.

The Centers for Disease Control released the study results collected by a field officer in Minnesota. She looked at a decade's worth of deaths classified as unexplained and found that in 59 of them there was evidence of opioid use.

That's not a ton of additional deaths (Minnesota had already listed more than 2,200 during those 10 years). But the takeaway is this: opioids weaken your immune system so users are more likely to develop diseases like pneumonia that make it harder to sort out what really caused them to die.

'We know we're missing cases'

The research was done by the CDC's Dr. Victoria Hall, who tells CNN: "While my research cannot speak to what percent we are underestimating, we know we are missing cases. It does seem like it is almost an iceberg of an epidemic."

Hall described one of the cases from her research to CNN. A middle-aged man had been taking opioids for back pain and family members worried he had started to abuse them. When he died suddenly, a medical examiner found he tested positive for both pneumonia and a toxic level of opioids. But only the pneumonia was mentioned on the death certificate.

In the conclusion of the study released Monday, the CDC says it's hard to disentangle the effects of opioid use and infectious diseases. But understanding how they interact will be important to preventing more opioid-related deaths.

Learn more about opioids

Opioids are a family of painkilling drugs. Many, like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin are prescribed by doctors. Others, like heroin and fentanyl, usually come from street dealers.

The CDC says opioid overdoses are killing 91 people per day in the U.S.

There's useful information here for people who think they or someone they know might be addicted.

Also, Minnesota recently made an overdose antidote available at drug stores. First responders have used Narcan to reverse the effects of heroin overdoses and health officials suggest regular users of opioids get the anitdote.

Next Up

ambulance

1 dead, 2 with life-threatening injuries in Minnesota crash

The crash happened just after 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Image (1)

School bus carrying students plunges into river southwest of Fargo

None of the kids suffered life-threatening injuries, though some were taken to area hospitals.

Richfield High School

Richfield High School cancels weekend events after shooting

Two men were shot outside the school's football stadium

Screen Shot 2022-09-23 at 10.21.38 PM

Sound of shots, mass panic at Richfield football game streamed live on YouTube

Gunfire caused panic at a varsity football game Friday night.

J. Gordon

K-9 search leads to $36K fentanyl seizure during traffic stop

A traffic stop was made after the vehicle was seen speeding through the area.

Screen Shot 2022-09-23 at 5.20.08 PM

Gov. Walz reacts to Tuesday death of Mankato West student

The governor is a former geography teacher at the high school.

court room

Teen pleads guilty to Minneapolis carjacking, admits to others

The man was yanked out of the vehicle by witnesses before fleeing the scene.

Federal court house

Three plead guilty to roles in murder on Red Lake Reservation

The 2019 murder left another person seriously injured.

image

Sheriff: Heifer shot and butchered on farmer's pasture near Aitkin

Anyone with information regarding the incident is encouraged to call the Clearwater County Sheriff's Office.

SwearegeneMugDouglasCoJail

Minneapolis murder suspect arrested in Wisconsin

The man has been wanted by police since the shooting happened in April.

Related

On the anniversary of a famous opioid overdose, MN gets money to prevent more

More than $5 million from the federal government will help Minnesota fight opioid addiction.

U of M research may lead to earlier detection of autism

A computer program based on the research was 80 percent accurate in predicting who'd be diagnosed with autism.

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.

Legionnaires' disease puts 2 in the hospital

The state's investigating the outbreak in Maple Grove.

In White House meeting, sheriff from MN emphasizes opioid problem

President Trump agreed that overdoses are a big problem in Minnesota – and asked about refugees.

You can get the overdose antidote at your local drugstore now

Minnesota has implemented the new law that makes naloxone available without a prescription.

MN schools need more mental health services, new report says

A report on student discipline from the Minnesota Department of Education.

Deaths caused by hospital errors fell by 75 percent last year

Despite the reduction in deaths, preventable errors increased in Minnesota hospitals.