Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Drug overdose deaths continued to rise in 2015

New data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) show drug overdose deaths, including those involving unintentional deaths and suicides, jumped 11 percent between 2014 and 2015. This increase from 516 deaths in 2014 to 572 deaths in 2015 follows a long-term trend of rising deaths due to drug overdoses in Minnesota.

Minnesota drug overdose deaths are more than four times as high than in the year 2000, when there were 129 drug overdose deaths. In 2015, more than half of the drug-related deaths were related to prescription medications rather than illegal street drugs. The leading drugs associated with deaths were opioid pain relievers (216) followed by heroin (114), stimulants such as methamphetamines (78), benzodiazepines (71) and cocaine (38). Minnesota has seen rising death rates related to all of these drug categories over the past five years, except for cocaine deaths, which have stayed at around 30 to 40 deaths a year since 2011.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said the new data show the need for a broader approach to addressing the root causes of drug addiction and overdoses. "With all the attention on this issue over the past several years, it's disappointing that we have not been more effective in slowing down this epidemic," Commissioner Ehlinger said. "It shows we must redouble our efforts and implement a comprehensive public health approach involving communities, health care providers and law enforcement to increase prevention efforts and access to chemical dependency treatments, pain management and emergency interventions such as Naloxone."

The rate and number of drug overdose deaths increased in the seven-county metro area from 2014 to 2015. In Greater Minnesota, the rate and number remained about the same in 2015 compared with 2014. The 2015 Metro rate of 11.6 deaths per 100,000 residents is slightly higher than the greater Minnesota rate of 9.3 per 100,000. However, rates in both Greater Minnesota and the Metro have increased since 2000 when they were both less than 3.0 per 100,000.

"The increase of deaths due to prescription and heroin opiate abuse is a tragedy for many Minnesota families and communities. We have all been affected," said Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. "We are working on many fronts including moving upstream to decrease excessive prescribing, getting medications into our communities to treat overdoses and improving access for those who have become addicted.  We are moving with purpose to address this growing crisis."

Unintentional drug overdoses accounted for a large majority of the deaths. Suicide deaths involving drugs have also increased, from 36 in 2000 to 100 in 2015. Although multiple factors influence suicidal behavior, substance use, including alcohol, is a significant factor in suicide and suicidal attempts. The unintentional drug overdoses that result in death are just a small portion of the total number of Minnesota's drug overdoses. Based on an analysis of 2014 hospital admissions, for every death related to unintentional overdoses there were more than six hospital admissions for drug overdoses. Antidepressants, barbiturates and other sedatives and psychotropic drugs account for the most hospitalizations.

"Drug overdose deaths destroy families and affect entire communities," said Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. "As law enforcement continues its efforts to take the drugs off the streets, we encourage parents to become educated on how to recognize the signs of drug use and support those struggling with addiction to seek help."

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