MDH reports sharp rise in drug overdose deaths during pandemic

More than 1,000 people died of a drug overdose in MN last year.
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More than 1,000 people died of a drug overdose in Minnesota last year, which represents a 27% increase compared to the year prior. 

According to preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), there was a sharp increase drug overdose deaths starting in March 2020 compared to March 2019, coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This trend continued throughout 2020, with the number of overdose deaths recorded each month coming in higher than the year before.

All told, 1,008 people died from an overdose in the state last year.

“The year has been unprecedented in so many ways," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcom in a news release, "and the staggering number of drug overdose deaths shows the need to amplify our prevention efforts and strengthen the ability of communities to support people and connect them with services.”

The number of drug overdose deaths rose throughout the state, though figures show a "significantly larger increase" in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area compared to Greater Minnesota.

Overdoses deaths among those aged 25-34 reached 274 last year. That's the highest figure among all age groups, and an increase of 99 deaths compared to 2019.

MDH said these numbers are preliminary, and while they are indicative of what happened, may change when the data is finalized.

Fentanyl a significant factor

Opioid-involved overdoses rose 59%, accounting for 654 deaths in 2020.  Synthetic opioids - which include fentanyl and fentanyl analogues - were responsible for more than eight in every 10 overdose deaths linked to opioids. There were 539 such deaths in 2020, up from 298 the year prior.

MDH also noted a 53% increase in the number of deaths involving commonly prescribed opioids, such as:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Percocet)
  • Morphine
  • Methadone

This is a reversal from 2018 and 2019, which saw deaths linked to commonly prescribed opioids decline.

The New York Times recently reported on the rise in overdose deaths nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The story noted a number of potential factors sparked by the pandemic, including the fear and stress related to job loss or lockdowns, the closure of many treatment or drop-in centers, and worsened access to life-saving treatments such as naloxone.

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