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Drug overdose deaths up 27% in Minnesota in 2020

MINNEAPOLIS  — Health officials say Minnesota saw a 27% increase in drug overdose deaths last year, with the first largest increase coinciding with the outbreak of COVID-19.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 1,008 people died of drug overdoses in 2020. Drug-related deaths increased 64% in March 2020 compared with the previous year, then peaked at more than 100 fatalities in the months of May and August.

Outreach resources became limited due to the pandemic.

“With COVID there’s this terrible storm about lack of access to treatment medications, housing and treatment facilities,” said Dr. Ryan Kelly, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Kelly said people died because of limited access to treatment, the Star Tribune reported.

“COVID has led to a huge increase for a lot of reasons,” said Marissa Bonnie, who does outreach for Southside Harm Reduction Services in Minneapolis.

“A lot of people have isolated way more, which can lead to people using alone or having limited resources.”

That includes access to lifesaving naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, as well as clean needles to prevent infections, Bonnie said.

As in previous years, opioids are among the substances that led to the most overdose deaths, although some deaths are linked to several different types of medications.