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Drug deaths continue to increase in Minnesota

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Numbers for 2015 drug deaths in Minnesota were released on Friday and the results aren't good.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) showed that drug overdose deaths jumped 11 percent between 2014 and 2015, increasing from 516 to 572 deaths.

The MDH said that drug overdose deaths are more than four times as high than in the year 2000, when deaths from overdose, including unintentional deaths and suicides, was at 129.

Last year, over half of the deaths were due to prescription medications rather than illegal street drugs.

Opioid pain relievers were the leading drug associated with death in Minnesota at 216, followed by heroin at 114 and 78 due to stimulants such as methamphetamines.

“The increase of deaths due to prescription and heroin opiate abuse is a tragedy for many Minnesota families and communities. We have all been affected,” said Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “We are working on many fronts including moving upstream to decrease excessive prescribing, getting medications into our communities to treat overdoses and improving access for those who have become addicted. We are moving with purpose to address this growing crisis.”

The rate of death is higher in the metro (11.6 deaths per 100,000 residents) compared to greater Minnesota (9.3 deaths per 100,000 residents), but both pale in comparison to 2000, when both areas were less than 3.0 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The rise in opioid addiction

Opioids – a class of drugs that include heroin, as well as prescription pain relievers like oxycodone and codeine – continue to be a problem in Minnesota and across the country.

It’s gotten bad enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called it an “epidemic.”

Director Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes it as a “serious public health problem.”

Volkow says stats show 52 million people have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes. But the problem can then turn more serious, as Volkow points out, with users sometimes becoming addicted.

The CDC says more than 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription painkillers.

The CDC has recognized the issue, and issued new recommendations for doctors considering prescribing opioids to patients with chronic pain. It includes only prescribing the smallest effective dose, and closely monitoring patients who use them.

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