Overdose deaths increase dramatically during COVID-19 pandemic

The number of drug overdose deaths in 2020 is higher when compared to 2017-2019 Photo: Minnesota Department of Health. The number of drug overdose deaths in 2020 is higher when compared to 2017-2019

Created: May 03, 2021 03:05 PM

(ABC 6 News) - The Minnesota Department of Health reports an increase of 27% in drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, going from 792 Minnesotans dying from an overdose in 2019 to 1,008 dying from an overdose in 2020. 

The trend shows each month in 2020 had a higher number of overdose deaths than the same month the year before.

“Minnesota families are struggling, and the overdose deaths in 2020 are a terrible reminder that those struggles can result in preventable deaths,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “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.”

Preliminary data show a 59% increase from 2019 to 2020 for all opioid-involved deaths among Minnesota residents (412 to 654 deaths). Deaths involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, increased 81% (298 to 539 deaths) 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% (135 to 207 deaths). Deaths involving heroin increased 15% (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.

Preliminary data also show a large increase in deaths involving non-opioids from 2019 to 2020. Psychostimulant-involved deaths, which includes methamphetamine, increased 44%, (229 to 329 deaths), deaths involving benzodiazepines increased 70% (83 to 141 deaths) and deaths involving cocaine increased 41% (58 to 82 deaths).

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

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