MN opioid overdoses reach new high in 2021

(ABC 6 News) – A new Minnesota Department of Health reports drug overdoses increased 22% from 2020 to 2021, attributing the deaths to the powerful drug, fentanyl.

Zachary Gruber got addicted to heroin when he was 16 years old. Gruber describes his close call when he overdosed on fentanyl nearly three years ago.

"I literally did minuscule amounts and overdosed. The only thing I would remember is using the drugs and waking up to paramedics and the fire department in a stretcher on the way to the hospital," Gruber said. "I couldn’t walk. That’s how close I was to death."

While the situation was terrifying, Gruber remembers the addiction was very strong.

"Once you feel better, it’s almost like it didn’t even happen and I want to get high again," Gruber explained.

He is not the only one. According to the MDH report, 1,286 people died in the year 2021 from an opioid overdose.

The Rochester Police Department says the numbers found in the report are on par with what officers are seeing in the streets. From routine searches to traffic stops, RPD says they are finding little blue fentanyl pills everywhere.

"There was a traffic crash…the driver flipped his car over and there was a whole bunch of these blue pills all over the car and all over the street," Capt. Casey Moilanen said.

Related: Car flipped over in Rochester neighborhood near Costco

RPD says without knowing it, people are ingesting a drug that is killing them, but there are ways lives can be saved. If you believe someone may be overdosing, call 9-1-1 before it is too late.

"Don’t wait around. Don’t be afraid to call," Capt. Moilanen advises. "If you call for help you are not going to get charged with any crime. The longer you wait, the better the chances are that the person is not going to survive."

"You just feel horrible, headache and disbelief…shock at the fact you almost just died," Gruber said of his overdose.

A survivor, Gruber says while the road to recovery is a lot of ups and downs, he says he is glad there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

"There’s this unseen on the other end of your addiction. There is something you never experienced before, that you never thought you could experience before. You are worth a good life, you are worth a normal life," Gruber said.

Now, Gruber works for the MN Teen and Adult Challenge, a Minn. substance abuse treatment organization, getting those struggling with addiction the help that they need.