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Preliminary statewide data show a decrease in overall drug overdose deaths in Minnesota, with deaths dropping 17% from 733 in 2017 to 607 in 2018. While promising, overdose rates remain at historic highs and indicate the amount of work still needed in prevention and treatment of substance use disorder.

Chief drivers were decreases in heroin deaths and deaths that involved prescription opioids. All opioid deaths declined 22% from 422 in 2017 to 331 in 2018. There was a 32% decrease in prescription opioid-involved deaths from 195 in 2017 to 134 in 2018. Heroin deaths decreased 23% from 111 in 2017 to 85 in 2018.

The preliminary data released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows deaths related to synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, continued to increase. A vast majority of the synthetic opioid deaths involved fentanyl. Of the 195 deaths, 184 (94%) had fentanyl listed as contributing to the death on the death certificate. Synthetic opioids are now involved in the greatest number of overdose deaths for all drugs, surpassing commonly prescribed opioids.

This decrease is just the second one seen since 2000 in a rising trend of opioid-involved deaths, if the preliminary data does not substantially change. MDH’s final drug overdose numbers tend to increase as the health department receives additional death certificates for Minnesota residents who died of opioid-involved overdoses in other states. For example, last year Minnesota’s preliminary count rose from 694 in May to 733 in the fall.  

Paralleling the drop in opioid-involved deaths, nonfatal emergency department visits for opioid-involved overdoses remained stable from 2,037 in 2017 to 1,946 in 2018.

Data contained within this report are preliminary and may change as they are finalized. A final report is anticipated this fall.

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