The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday reported 607 overall drug overdose deaths statewide in 2018, a 17 percent drop from the previous year. Though encouraging, overdose rates “remain at historic highs” and show that more needs to be done in prevention and treatment of substance use disorder.

All opioid-related deaths dropped 22 percent to 331 in 2018. Of those fatalities, 134 people died from prescription opioids and 85 died from heroin, according to preliminary data from the Health Department. Meanwhile, Synthetic opioid overdoses ran counter to the trend and increased 6% with fentanyl involved in nearly all synthetic-opioid deaths.

The 2019 Legislature made it a focal point of the session to curb the opioid crisis which has gripped the state for several years, a reflection of the national epidemic. Last week, Gov. Tim Walz signed a much touted opioid bill aimed at funding prevention, treatment and recovery strategies.

“The numbers announced today represent good news, and highlight the work already underway to address the opioid crisis,” said DFL Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth, who authored the opioid bill. “Still, there are too many overdoses in Minnesota and a more robust response is needed, particularly greater distribution of lifesaving Narcan.”

A more in-depth report is expected in September, when Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said numbers are likely to be higher due to Minnesotans dying in other states from opioids. Still, within the state, numbers are showing a wide improvement. For example, the number of nonfatal emergency visits in Minnesota fell slightly form 2,037 visits in 2017 to 1,946 in 2018.

"This is the first change in what had been an inexorable increase in these numbers since the year 2000," Malcolm said. “We’re not declaring victory today. One year’s change does not necessarily make a new trend. But we think there are definitely some encouraging signals here that we’re on the right track in Minnesota to achieve our goal of ending the opioid crisis."

That was the message on the ground in St. Louis County, where the opioid crisis has impacted county budgets and funding to great lengths and put increased pressure on first responders.

“The numbers released by the state are very encouraging,” said DFL Rep. Dave Lislegard of Aurora, who signed onto the opioid bill. “But this crisis is real and far from over. We need to stay diligent in our approach to provide a true resolution to this epidemic facing our communities, region and state.”

In Minnesota, there were more than 3 million opioid prescriptions reported in 2017. The state adopted opioid prescribing guidelines and announced that more than 16,000 health care

providers in the state will receive reports comparing their rates of opioid prescription to others in their field. And the state's prescription drug monitoring program will issue alerts for patients that could be abusing the painkillers.

“Minnesota is working to end the opioid crisis by investing in a range of prevention, emergency response, treatment and recovery strategies,” state Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey said in a news release. “The decrease we’re seeing in opioid deaths tells us our approach is the right one. We must continue to help those who are struggling with addiction and stop the damaging effects illicit opioid use has on people, families and communities.”

Mesabi Daily News Reporter Leah Ryan and Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.


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