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Minnesota's drug problem got even worse in 2016

Drug overdose deaths shot up last year, a rise driven by the use of dangerous opioids.

Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota continued to spike at a worrying rate in 2016.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed on Thursday that 637 people died from drug overdoses in the state last year, a 9.2 percent rise over 2015 when 583 people died.

It continues what the MDH calls an "alarming trend" that has seen Minnesota's overdose deaths increase sixfold since 2000.

Heroin deaths proved particularly common in the Twin Cities, while methamphetamine deaths are on the rise in Greater Minnesota.

"The alarm is growing louder year after year as we continue to see the costly impact of ‘diseases of despair’ such as chronic pain, depression, chemical dependency and suicide,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

Minnesota is not immune from the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, with opioids involved in 376 deaths last year, a 12 percent rise over 2015.

Most of these deaths, 186 in total, resulted from overdoses of prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

But an even more shocking figure is that there was an 80 percent rise in the number of people who lost their lives after overdosing on "synthetic" opioids.

Ninety-six people died after taking these drugs, with 85 – including Minnesota music legend Prince – dying after overdosing on the powerful opioid fentanyl.

The 376 opioid deaths doesn't even include heroin – itself an opioid – which was responsible for 142 deaths in Minnesota last year.

Elsewhere, 127 deaths were caused by "psychostimulants" including meth, 96 from benzodiazepines, and 39 from cocaine.

Of the 637 deaths, 400 of them happened in the Twin Cities metro area, with the remaining 237 in Greater Minnesota. 

America's opioid problem

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that of the 52,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2015, 33,000 were from opioids including prescription painkillers and heroin.

The Economist reports that the opioid epidemic had its roots in the explosive growth of prescription painkillers for two decades.

Since 1991, the number of opioid prescriptions (sold under names like Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet) supplied by retail pharmacies rose from 76 million to 219 million.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the increase in opioid use could be responsible for the decline in labor force participation seen since the turn of the century, particularly among men of prime working age.

Minnesota steps up opioid fight

The MDH announced Thursday that it has launched an "Opioid Dashboard," which you can find here, that serves as a "one-stop shop" for sharing efforts happening across the state to tackle the opioid epidemic.

This can be used by local authorities to discover what tactics are working, find data to use for grant applications, and identify trends.

In the press release. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith criticized the Minnesota legislature for failing to include a $42 million investment in opioid addiction prevention and treatment, and urged it to reconsider when it reconvenes.

"Our families can't afford to wait any longer for help."

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