(The Center Square) – The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported a 27% increase in drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, with a portion of that time corresponding with the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 792 Minnesotans died from an overdose in 2019, but that number climbed to 1,008 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,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “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 compounds with a similar molecular structure of fentanyl, 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 walks back 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,” 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.”
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, linked the increased death count to COVID-19 lockdowns.
“This time last year we were warning that shutdowns were going to cause grave harm to Minnesotans and their mental health. Separating people and isolating them does cause damage,” Benson said in a video statement. "And it might not show up as COVID deaths, but it certainly is related to COVID.... today we got confirmation from the Minnesota Department of Health; there was a 27% increase in overdose deaths in Minnesota through the period of COVID shutdowns…. We know that letting people connect, opening our economy, is going to have a positive impact on mental health and reduce the risk of overdose.”
Last week, Senate Republicans passed a bill that aims to allow an increase in mental health and substance abuse hospital beds.