Minnesota saw a surge of deaths in 2017 caused by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to a preliminary analysis of death records by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
The number of synthetic opioid-involved deaths increased 74 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the preliminary data.
This increase is largely due to fentanyl-involved deaths; of the 172 deaths that involved synthetic opioids, 156 (91 percent) had fentanyl listed as contributing to the death on the death certificate.
“This dramatic increase shows that the opioid epidemic in Minnesota has also become a fentanyl public health crisis,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “These data confirm that Minnesotans addicted to opioids may unknowingly be exposing themselves to far greater and more deadly risks than they know. It is more important than ever for us to support Minnesotans in their efforts to seek help and treatment.”
The growing impact of fentanyl is so great that it is outweighing progress in other areas, such as decreases in prescription opioid and heroin deaths, resulting in a total 3 percent increase in deaths from 675 in 2016 to 694 in 2017, according to preliminary numbers.
These numbers are subject to change as MDH researchers work further to confirm their accuracy. Finalized numbers are expected to be released in September 2018.
"fentanyl now has become a very relevant and pertinent part of, of, of the drug scene in, within St. Louis County," said Greg Anderson, Social Service Supervisor with St. Louis County Health & Human Services.
While the MDH waits to finalize the numbers, they say they know enough to see there's a growing problem.
"Given the current opioid crisis, and the dramatic increases in fentanyl-related deaths that we see in this data, we felt it was critical to get this information out as soon as possible, so that health care providers, law enforcement, and users of opioids can take steps now to avoid more deaths," said Malcolm.
Anderson said a good portion of overdose deaths related to fentanyl is due to users unknowingly using other drugs laced with the potentially deadly substance.
"It's a very frightening development, which even heightens the need for us as a community to react and address this in an urgent fashion," said Anderson.
Anderson has been a big proponent of legislation crafted to hold producers and distributors of prescription opioids to take accountability for the crisis.
"This is a statewide problem, and we need statewide support to be able to put an effective approach to dealing with this crisis situation,"
Meanwhile, he says the most important thing for us as a community is to work together to tackle the issue.
"To work with decision makers, who can have lasting impacts on how we as communities can provide resources and support for those addressing the issue. Whether it's law enforcement, treatment providers, or other entities who are working towards the protection and support of our community," said Anderson.
The state Senate recently passed a bill that would raise $20-million annually by imposing a licensing fee on manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.
That still needs to clear a number of hurdles before it would become law.