MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s drug overdose problem is getting worse, as more people die from drug overdoses than from traffic accidents.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that the number of drug overdose deaths continues to rise.
Last year, 637 Minnesotans died from a drug overdose. That’s up from 583 in 2015 — a 9 percent increase.
More than half of those deaths were from opioid overdoses. Prescribed drugs, like oxycodone, accounted for the greatest number of overdoses.
“This means, on an average day, two people died from a drug overdose in Minnesota,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger at a news conference.
The most high-profile drug overdose death last year was that of Prince. He was one of 85 people in Minnesota who overdosed on fentanyl last year.
So how did we get here?
“First, Minnesotans believed pain medicines were safer than they really were,” Ehlinger said. “Second, there was an increased emphasis on preventing pain…Third, we did not quickly identify how quickly we could become addicted to pain medications.”
The health department just launched a data dashboard that will consolidate information about overdose deaths, making it easier for law enforcement officers and medical professionals to track the problem and provide help to those in need.
“Minnesotans are suffering from ‘diseases of despair,’ such as chronic pain, depression and chemical dependency,” Ehlinger said.
The latest numbers on drug overdose deaths in Minnesota also revealed some stark racial disparities.
The state says American Indians were six times as likely to die from a drug overdose than whites. African Americans were twice as likely to die from an overdose than white Minnesotans.
Health leaders pointed to a lack of hope as an underlying cause of drug use.