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Putting a face to the opioid epidemic

Updated: July 18, 2019 06:30 PM

The opioid epidemic has hit every corner of the country, including here in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently released data that showed a decrease in overall drug overdoses last year, but rates remain at historic highs.

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A digital project at the National Safety Council — Celebrating Lost Loves Ones — continues to add the stories of Minnesotans.

Celebrating Lost Loved Ones

"He was a true Minnesota boy,” said Kaitlin Budish about her brother John Ryan Schlegel. "He was the guy who made everybody feel special."

Schlegel’s story is posted on the site that allows families to share information on the opioid deaths.

Schlegel, from Willmar, joined the U.S. Army after high school.

During his service, he was injured and prescribed opioids for the pain, which became an addiction, according to his family.

"I think there needs to be a change of perception, of how we see addiction and that it's a disease," Budish said.

At age 24, Schlegel overdosed on fentanyl that a Kandiyohi County man sold him in 2017.

"I want people to know that nobody wakes up and wants to be a drug addict, everybody has a story and journey and how they got to that point," said Budish.

"It's kind of gut punch to look the map," said database creator Jeremiah Lindemann. “It's a little overwhelming."

Lindemann created the site after he lost his brother JT to opioids.

As a geographer, Lindeman wanted to create a map that humanized drug overdose statistics.

"To really put a face to it, there's a lot of stigma around it,” Lindemann said. “Every person on that map, there's a story."

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.

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Credits

Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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