Minnesota drug overdose deaths jumped in pandemic year

Boxes filled with supplies.
Boxes of supplies ranging from sharps containers and condoms to needles and Narcan await distribution Dec. 31 at the offices of Harm Reduction Sisters in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2020

More than 1,000 Minnesotans died from drug overdoses in 2020 — a 27 percent increase from the year before, officials said Monday.

The numbers included an 81 percent rise in deaths due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl and similar drugs.

Deaths started to pick up notably in March, coinciding with the initial surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, as medical professionals and treatment programs struggled to cope with the coronavirus, the Health Department reported.

Deaths involving commonly prescribed opioids, such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet), morphine and methadone, increased 53 percent, reversing a decline in deaths involving those drugs in previous years. Non-opioid deaths were also up notably.

COVID-19 restrictions also forced more people into isolation and unemployment, potentially adding to their risk for overdose.

“The last year has been incredibly challenging and demonstrates the need for increased public health measures,” said Dana Farley, MDH drug overdose prevention supervisor, said in a statement.

“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,” Farley added.

People who need help around addiction can find a list of resources at Support for Addiction Recovery during COVID-19.

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