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Overdose deaths involving opioids, other drugs fell in Minnesota last year

It's welcome news, but health officials say overdose rates are still at historic highs.
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The number of drug overdose deaths in Minnesota fell in 2018, but health officials are still warning that overdoses rates are still at "historic highs."

Last year, there were 607 fatal drug overdoses in Minnesota, down 17 percent on the year before, when there were 733.

Of those, opioid deaths declined by 22 percent, from 422 in 2017 to 331 in 2018.

It's just the second time since 2000 that drug overdose deaths have declined in Minnesota.

Deaths attributed to prescription opioids and heroin decreased by 32 and 23 percent respectively, but synthetic opioid overdoses – including the deadly fentanyl – rose by 5.4 percent from 184 in 2017 to 194 in 2018.

Synthetic opioids now cause more overdose deaths than any other drug in Minnesota, overtaking prescription opioids for the first time. Of the 194 synthetic opioid deaths reported last year, fentanyl was listed as a contributing factor in 184 of them.

Deaths attributed to methamphetamine remained level, while deaths involving Benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax) and cocaine dropped by 29 percent and 25 percent respectively.

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"It’s encouraging to see this turn-around in the trend in 2018 as Minnesota has implemented a broad range of efforts to prevent opioid misuse and combat the overdose crisis," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm.

"This is good news, but we want to emphasize that this is still preliminary data and that overdose deaths continue to remain at historic highs. There is still much work that needs to be done to end this crisis and mitigate its effects."

The Minnesota Department of Health is cautioning that the figures released on Tuesday are merely preliminary, and that the numbers tend to increase as it receives additional death certificates for Minnesotans who died from ODs in other states.

And despite a significant reduction in opioid fatalities, the number of nonfatal emergency department visits remained relative stable, dropping only slightly from 2,037 in 2017 to 1,946 in 2018.

Minnesota has been taking steps to combat opioid deaths, seeking to stop the supply chain via an anti-heroin task force at the law enforcement level, while expanding the availability of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan.

Efforts are also being taken to curb addiction to prescription drugs by creating new guidelines for medical providers who prescribe opioids to Minnesotans on Medicaid or MinnesotaCare.

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