Shock after overdose death of former UMD music professor

Tributes have flooded in for Tina Thielen-Gaffey.
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The husband of a former University of Minnesota-Duluth music professor and choral director who died from an accidental drug overdose is warning others that "if it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone."

Dozens of tributes have been paid on social media by family and friends of Tina Thielen-Gaffey, who died Saturday.

The Duluth News Tribune reports the 50-year-old's 16-year tenure at UMD had an "acrimonious end" in 2015. Since then she'd been battling "concurrent medical conditions" and struggled with depression.

Her husband, Jim Gaffey, said the mother-of-two had been overusing sleeping medications and muscle relaxants, and warned her death should serve as a lesson for anyone overusing medication.

“If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone,” he told the newspaper. “Hopefully, it can wake somebody else up. That’s why we’re being brutally honest about it.”

A GoFundMe page set up to help her family describes Thielen-Gaffey as a "musical force" who "gifted countless people with laughter, spirit and love."

Two services will be held for her this week, at Concordia Lutheran in Duluth on Thursday and at Wisconsin Immanuel Lutheran in New London, Wisconsin – where she was raised – on Saturday.

An obituary describes Thielen-Gaffey's long love of music. She became a music teacher shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, before teaching music at UMD as an associate professor.

She was also a ensemble director excelling in vocal jazz and choral music. Most recently she was teaching in the Drummond, Wisconsin, school district.

Those who knew her are in shock over her death, and have been paying tribute on Facebook.

Minnesota's overdose problem

Just last week, the Minnesota Department of Health revealed that the number of overdose deaths in the state rose 9.2 percent in 2016.

In total, 637 people died from an overdose, up from 583 people a year earlier.

Of this number, 186 people died from an overdose on prescription medication.

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