The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s preliminary figures show that drug overdose fatalities in Minnesota reached a record high in 2021. The sudden increase in lethal overdoses reflects a pandemic-era tendency that was also seen in other so-called “deaths of despair,” such as drinking and suicide.
The number of Minnesotans who died from drug-related causes last year was close to 1,500, more than doubling from the previous year. Nearly 60% of the overdoses used fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is far more powerful than other opioids. The 881 fentanyl fatalities are an increase of more than four times since 2018.
In fact, that was the year the Legislature enacted and Governor Mark Dayton signed a crucial piece of legislation intended to address the opioid crisis.
With 474 occurrences, methamphetamines were the second-most prevalent drug class to be used in fatal Minnesota overdoses. That amount has tripled since 2018. About 170 instances involved cocaine and non-fentanyl opiates. Around 100 overdoses were caused by heroin. Please take note that these various medication classifications are not exclusive of one another. A fatal overdose frequently involves many different substances.
Minnesota is not the only state that has seen a sharp rise in overdose deaths: nationwide, the number of yearly drug deaths rose from over 70,000 in 2018 to almost 110,000 last year. Similar to Minnesota, fentanyl is primarily responsible for the national uptick, accounting for about two thirds of overdose fatalities last year after accounting for less than half in 2018.
In comparison to the rest of Minnesota, the overdose rate has risen more quickly in the Twin Cities. In 2014, there were around 11 overdose fatalities per 100,000 people in both areas. The seven-county metro area’s death rate reached 30 per 100,000 people by last year, compared to broader Minnesota’s average of 23 per 100,000.
Nearly all main drug categories have higher mortality rates in the Twin Cities than in the rest of Minnesota. Methamphetamine is the only exception, killing people at approximately comparable rates both inside and outside of the metro region.
Authorities frequently develop public health messaging around the risks that deadly narcotics to children (for example, the most recent DEA campaign on the purported risks of “rainbow fentanyl” intended to lure youngsters). Among Minnesota and elsewhere, the majority of overdose deaths occur in adults, particularly those who are in their prime working years.
For instance, since 2018, around 97% of overdose deaths in Minnesota have included adults 20 and older. People in their 30s and 40s have the greatest mortality rates.
Additionally, there are significant racial differences in overdose deaths in Minnesota. In 2021, there were 192 overdose fatalities among Native Minnesotans per 100,000 people, more than nine times the rate (21 per 100,000) for white citizens. The rate was 66 per 100,000 for Black inhabitants whereas it was only seven per 100,000 for Minnesotans of Asian origin.
Fentanyl is frequently combined with other drugs by illegal drug producers as a low-cost method of increasing potency. As a result, many people who accidentally overdose on the potent opioid. For instance, a Hopkins man was given a life sentence last month for selling fentanyl that was mistakenly branded as an Adderall-like substance. The mix-up resulted in 11 fatalities.
The spike in fentanyl deaths has been addressed by Minnesotan authorities. They’ve made the medication Naloxone, which, if used in time, may reverse overdoses, more widely available. The usage and possession of test strips that can identify the presence of fentanyl in a drug were also legalized last year.
There are some indications that Minnesota overdose rates may be plateauing. The CDC’s preliminary numbers through April, the most recent month for which data are available, show a modest decline in drug-related mortality. However, it’s too soon to determine if this is really a transient blip or a long-term decreasing trend.