Preliminary 2018 data show decline in Minnesota opioid deaths

Preliminary 2018 data show decline in Minnesota opioid deaths Photo: KSTP

Updated: July 09, 2019 06:56 PM

Preliminary data released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) show a decrease in overall drug overdose deaths in the state, However, the department said, while the data is promising, overdose rates remain at historic highs.

According to MDH, the biggest drivers in the decline were decreases in heroin deaths and deaths that involved prescription opioids. Drug overdose deaths dropped 17 percent in 2018 while opioid deaths declined 22 percent.

Deaths related to synthetic opioids, primarly illicitly manufactured fentanyl, continued to increase, though, according to the data. MDH said synthetic opioids are now involved in the greatest number of overdose deaths for all drugs, surpassing commonly prescribed opioids.

"It's encouraging to see this turn-around in the trend in 2018 as Minnesota has implemented a broad range of efforts to prevent opioid misuse and combat the overdose crisis," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement. "This is good news, but we want to emphasize that this is still preliminary data and that overdose deaths continue to remain at historic highs. There is still much work that needs to be done to end this crisis and mitigate its effects."

The decrease is just the second since 2000 in a rising trend of opioid-involved deaths, if the preliminary data does not substantially change, MDH said. The count can increase as death certificates for Minnesota residents who died in other states are received.

Nonfatal emergency department visits for opioid-involved overdoses remained mostly stable from 2,037 in 2017 to 1,946 in 2018.

MDH said there are several initiatives underway in the state to address opioid misuse, such as increasing access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone (known by the brand name Narcan), creating opioid prescribing guidelines for the state, upgrading the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program to include alerts about patients potentially misusing opioids, the creation of the Minnesota Anti-Heroin Task Force, legislation giving an additional $1.3 million to support investigations of heroin and other drug crimes, and many more.

MDH also said the Minnesota Department of Human Services will soon release $8.87 million in State Opioid Response grants to fund naloxone distribution, expand treatment resources including medication assisted treatment, and work to build the treatment workforce.

You can view the preliminary report here. A full finalized report is expected in the fall.

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