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State health officials link increase in overdose deaths to pandemic

Overdose deaths in 2020 started to increase sharply in March, largely driven by an uptick in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's no secret the ongoing pandemic is taking a toll on all aspects of life, and health officials believe it's also contributing to the startling number of overdoses in Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, drug overdose deaths increased 31% during the first half of 2020 as compared to the first half of 2019, according to new statewide data. The first half of 2019 (January to June) showed 373 deaths, while the first half of 2020 showed 490 deaths.

Overdose deaths in 2020 started to increase sharply in March, largely driven by an increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths. Approximately 80% of all opioid-involved deaths during this time involved synthetic opioids.

Both 2019 and 2020 also saw an increase in deaths from the first quarter of the year (January to March) to the second quarter of the year (April to June), but the 30% increase from the first to second quarter in 2020 was greater than the 13% increase seen in 2019.

Sesany Fennie-Jones, Director of Programs at Haven Housing in North Minneapolis, caters to those most susceptible to drug addictions and can attest to these startling statistics.

"A lot of people, especially our residents who find coping with the use of drugs and alcohol, we've seen an uptick of relapses do to what all is going on this year," said Sesany.

For Sesany, the problem stems from a number of issues facing the most vulnerable.

"They are struggling either financially, or with trauma or with a combination of mental health, chemical health, especially someone who doesn't have a home," said Sesany. 

However, even amid a pandemic, Haven Housing is working to make important resources available.

"We continue to provide the services that are necessary through Zoom, through phone calls, we stay connected with our residents and our families," said Sesany. 

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm released the following statement on the impact of overdose deaths in Minnesota:

"Deaths due to overdoses are preventable even amid all the troubles we’ve had this year. 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.”

Minnesotans who need help are encouraged to connect to pick up the phone or connect with their communities using a video platform. A list of recovery resources and support systems can be found at Support for Addiction Recovery during COVID-19.