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Serving: MN

Overdose deaths increase in rural Minnesota during pandemic

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DEATH BY OVERDOSE: The number of Minnesotans who died by overdose increased in 2020 to 1,008. That compares to 792 drug overdose deaths in 2019 and 636 in 2018.
Overdose deaths in early 2020 were higher outstate, compared to the seven-county metro area, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota jumped 27% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a preliminary Minnesota Department of Health report.

The data also indicate a slightly higher increase in drug overdose deaths in rural Minnesota in early 2020 when compared to the Twin Cities metro area.

In 2020, 1,008 people died from an overdose, compared to 792 in 2019. MDH data show that each month in 2020 had a higher number of overdose deaths than the same month the year before. 2020 drug overdose deaths increased in March and peaked in May, with a second peak in August 2020.

Comparing the seven-county metro area to greater Minnesota, preliminary data show increases in drug overdose deaths in both 2019 and 2020, with a significantly larger increase in the metro area.

In the metro area, drug overdose deaths increased 40% from 2019 to 2020 (from 483 to 673 deaths). The largest increase in 2020 was in the first half of the year, where drug overdose deaths increased 24% (from 145 to 180 deaths) in 2020, compared to 14% (from 116 to 132 deaths) in 2019.

In greater Minnesota, drug overdose deaths increased 21% from 2019 to 2020 (from 276 to 335 deaths). MDH noted that drug overdose deaths increased from the first to the second quarter of 2020 by 43% — from 68 deaths to 97 — an increase substantially larger than in 2019 and larger than the increase in the metro area over the same period.

In both the metro area and greater Minnesota, the number of drug overdose deaths was relatively stable from July through December 2020, although the numbers were significantly higher from previous years. Of the 1,008 drug overdose deaths statewide, 673 were in the metro area and 335 were outstate.

More young people died of overdose

Preliminary MDH data show increases in drug overdose deaths across all age groups. However, the highest increase was for residents from 25 to 34 years old. This group saw the greatest number of drug overdose deaths, increasing 57% from 2019 (from 175 to 274 deaths). Minnesota residents aged 45 to 54 experienced a 40% increase in drug overdose deaths (from 141 to 197 deaths).

Cause of overdose deaths

MDH officials said preliminary data show a 59% increase from 2019 to 2020 for all opioid-involved deaths. Deaths involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, increased 81% and were involved in 82% of all opioid-involved deaths. Deaths involving commonly prescribed opioids, such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet), morphine and methadone, increased 53% (from 135 to 207 deaths). Deaths involving heroin increased 15% (from 102 to 117 deaths). The increase in deaths from substances of commonly prescribed opioids is a reversal of recent progress, where these deaths declined in both 2018 and 2019, MDH officials noted in their preliminary report.

Preliminary data also show a large increase in deaths involving methamphetamine, benzodiazepines and cocaine.

“The last year has been incredibly challenging and demonstrates the need for increased public health measures," said Dana Farley, MDH drug overdose prevention supervisor, in a news release. “Prevention tools such as access to naloxone, linkages to care and overdose fatality reviews improve our understanding of why people are using drugs, and lead to recovery and saved lives.”

MDH reminds residents that support and resources are available. A list of recovery resources can be found at Support for Addiction Recovery during COVID-19.

For more information, read the Preliminary Drug Overdose Deaths During the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020 (PDF) on the MDH Drug Overdose Dashboard. Or, visit the Drug Overdose Dashboard to learn more about overdose data, opioid emergency response, lifesaving naloxone and preventing the demand for drugs.

MDH also launched a new podcast series, “Stories from the Field,” earlier this month, aimed at addressing the evolving opioid epidemic. To listen to the podcast series, visit Opioids: Prevention, Treatment and Community-Driven Efforts.


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