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MDH: Fatal Overdoses Rose 27% In 2020, Driven By Surge In Fentanyl-Linked Deaths

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Drug overdose deaths increased 27% in Minnesota last year, health officials announced Monday. More than 1,000 people died of overdoses during a year that brought the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest stemming from the murder of George Floyd.

The Minnesota Department of Health says that 1,008 people in Minnesota died of an overdose in 2020, up from 792 people in 2019. A graph of the deaths by month shows that every month in 2020 had a higher number of overdose deaths than the same month in 2019. As the graph shows, the overdose numbers begin to surge in March, when the pandemic began in Minnesota.

"The year has been unprecedented in so many ways, and the staggering number of drug overdose deaths shows the need to amplify our prevention efforts and strengthen the ability of communities to support people and connect them with services," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm, in a statement.

Preliminary data show that about half of the overdose deaths last year involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Such deaths were up 81% over 2019.

Overdoses from commonly-prescribed opioids, like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine, accounted for about 200 deaths last year, an increase of over 50%. Health officials say this increase is a reversal of years of progress, as 2018 and 2019 saw declines in deaths linked to commonly-prescribed opioids.

The data also show an increase in non-opioid deaths. Fatal overdoses involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased 44%. Deaths involving cocaine also increased by more than 40% while fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers, increased 70%.

Health officials say the increase in overdose deaths last year underscores the need for public health measures addressing the issue, such as increasing access to the overdose-preventing drug naloxone and helping more Minnesotans get the care they need.

For those who are suffering, help is available, health officials say. A list of recovery resources from the University of Minnesota can be found here.

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