Hennepin County sheriff, community members highlight impact of fentanyl

Hennepin County sheriff, community members highlight impact of fentanyl

Hennepin County sheriff, community members highlight impact of fentanyl

The opioid epidemic isn’t new, but as its impact continues to worsen, local leaders are taking a new approach to highlight what they’re calling a “crisis.”

Officials and community members in Hennepin County gathered Thursday afternoon to discuss the impact of fentanyl and a new initiative aimed at countering it.

Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt, Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker and local health professionals were joined by families who’ve felt the impact of the opioid epidemic firsthand at a press conference Thursday.

During that event, Witt announced her office’s “Focus on Fentanyl” initiative and released the first video in a series about the life and death of Seth Carlson, who died at 17 from fentanyl.

“If your life has not been personally impacted by opioids, it’s easy to try to ignore it — out of sight, out of mind,” Witt said. “But with opioids killing more than one person every day in Hennepin County, that approach is not working.”

Public data shows the sharp rise in opioid-related deaths in Minnesota and Hennepin County in recent years. In 2018, the state says 342 Minnesotans died from opioid-involved overdoses. That jumped back to 427 in 2019 before climbing to 678 in 2020 and 978 in 2021, the last year for which the public data is currently available. That trend has been similar in Hennepin County, with opioid-involved overdose deaths climbing from below 200 in 2018 up to 340 in 2021.

Source: Minnesota Department of Health

Baker said that last year’s data shows 378 opioid-related overdose deaths in Hennepin County, and all but 20 were related to fentanyl.

In the past 11 years, Baker said Hennepin County has seen a 378% increase in opioid deaths.

The sheriff’s office says the city, county, state and federal officials are working together to try to combat the opioid epidemic.

RELATED: A 20-year-old Minnesota man describes his recovery from addiction — as experts warn of fentanyl’s deadly effects

“We have to end the stigma around substance use,” Witt said. “Drug use should not be a death sentence. But it is increasingly deadly due to one substance: fentanyl. Our Focus on Fentanyl initiative is about letting families know that our role in addressing the opioid crisis is not just about enforcement. It isn’t about putting people in jail or criminalizing addiction. It is about preventing death and further harm to our communities.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction, Hennepin County has resources to help here.