ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota increased 31% in the first half of 2020, compared to the same time in 2019, state health officials said Thursday.

The Minnesota Department of Health said there were 490 overdose deaths from January to June 2020 and 373 deaths during the same time last year.

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The number of deaths took a sharp increase in March, largely driven by an increase in fatalities due to synthetic opioids, health officials said. About 80% of opioid-involved deaths were attributed to synthetic opioids, which are manufactured drugs that mimic the effects of natural opioids.

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Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said even during the COVID-19 pandemic there is support and help available to anyone suffering with addiction.

“Deaths due to overdoses are preventable even amid all the troubles we’ve had this year,” Malcolm said. “We need to work together to find ways to better support those suffering from substance use disorders, but it is important to know that there are resources available and those resources can still be accessed safely even with COVID-19 restrictions in place.”

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