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Minnesota’s drug overdose deaths continued to rise in 2016

Minnesota Department of Health launches Opioid Dashboard to save lives through data

Minnesota’s total number of drug overdose deaths continued to climb in 2016, with heroin taking an increasing toll in the Twin Cities and methamphetamine deaths on the rise in Greater Minnesota.

Drug overdose deaths among Minnesota residents increased 9.2 percent from 2015 to 2016, extending an alarming trend. The number of drug overdose deaths in 2016 is nearly six times higher than it was in 2000. Preliminary data collected from Minnesota death certificates show 637 people died from a drug overdose in 2016 compared to 583 deaths in 2015.

“The alarm is growing louder year after year as we continue to see the costly impact of ‘diseases of despair’ such as chronic pain, depression, chemical dependency and suicide,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “Launching a new data dashboard will consolidate our tracking efforts into one place and help us better work together to help Minnesotans learn about prevention and treatment options, and to avoid the trap of drug abuse.”

There were 376 opioid-involved deaths in 2016, up 12 percent from 2015. Prescribed opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, continued to account for the greatest number of opioid-involved deaths, 186 in 2016. There were 96 synthetic opioid-involved deaths in 2016, with 85 involving fentanyl – the drug believed responsible for Prince’s death. Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased nearly 80 percent from 2015.

While the number of drug overdose deaths in the Metro has increased sharply, Greater Minnesota saw its death rate hold steady due to a sharp increase in methamphetamine and psychostimulant overdose deaths combined with a decrease in opioid-involved deaths. The 2016 drug overdose mortality rate for the Metro of 13.3 per 100,000 residents is higher than the Greater Minnesota rate of 9.5 per 100,000. Over the past three years, unintentional drug overdoses accounted for a large majority of the drug overdose deaths among Minnesota residents. Drug overdose deaths classified as a suicide have remained stable in that time.

Recognizing the harm these deaths cause for families and communities, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has launched an Opioid Dashboard to serve as a one-stop shop for sharing statewide efforts, what’s working, data for grant writing, and data counties and others can use to spot trends, benchmark efforts, and take action. The online dashboard includes information about opioid overdose deaths, nonfatal overdoses, opioid use, misuse, substance use disorder, prescribing practices, supply, diversion, harm reduction, co-occurring conditions and social determinants of health. Potential users of the dashboard include health care providers, pharmacies, local public health, social service providers, law enforcement, poison control, Indian Health Services, advocacy organizations and the general public.

“As this report shows, drug abuse is a public health crisis in communities all across our state,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “During the 2017 Legislative Session, our administration proposed a $42 million investment in opioid addiction prevention and treatment, a leading cause of overdose fatalities in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Legislature declined to take action. I urge the Legislature to reconsider and pass a comprehensive package for addressing the opioid crisis. Our families can’t afford to wait any longer for help.”

Minnesota has several initiatives underway to address opioid addiction, such as increasing access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (brand name Narcan). Other efforts include the Opioid Prescribing Work Group, which is writing opioid prescribing guidelines for Minnesota, and an upgrade of the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program to include alerts for prescribers about patients potentially misusing opioids. The Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Opioid State Targeted Response Grants will include investments in naloxone distribution, chemical dependency treatment support and a statewide media campaign. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is seeking funding to create a system for issuing real-time alerts about community risks such as fentanyl-laced opioids.

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