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Nonfatal drug overdoses increased during COVID-19 pandemic

Oct 01, 2021 05:23AM ● By Editor
From the Minnesota Department of Health - September 30, 2021

Improving health and wellness is possible for anyone who uses drugs, including the more than 14,000 Minnesotans who had an overdose treated at a hospital in 2020. In fact, in 2020, for every overdose death of a Minnesota resident, there were 14 nonfatal overdoses reported.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported an 18% increase in nonfatal, emergency department-treated drug overdoses in 2020 compared to 2019. Nonfatal overdoses rose from 6,196 in 2019 to 7,290 in 2020. Opioids and stimulants drove much of the increase, as they were involved in 57% of emergency department visits for nonfatal overdoses.

Number of nonfatal ED visits for drug overdose metro vs greater MN Minnesota residents 2016-2020

“The report on nonfatal overdoses in Minnesota is a reminder that so many lives are tragically impacted by substance use,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest public health issue in the world for almost two years now, but the other pressing public health issues have not gone away. The opioid epidemic continues to be pervasive and requires continuing, comprehensive drug overdose prevention and response efforts.”

The harms of drug overdoses are another area of wellness, where the inequities experienced by communities of color, as a result of systemic racism and its influence on health, contribute to the greater burden among Minnesota’s communities of color. The data shows American Indians were nine times as likely to experience a nonfatal overdose than white Minnesotans. Black Minnesotans were three times as likely as white Minnesotans to experience a nonfatal overdose.

Rate of nonfatal ED visits for drug overdose by race minnesota residents 2016-2020

“As with fatal overdose data, we see populations most impacted by systemic racism are more often affected by substance use,” said MDH Overdose Prevention Supervisor Dana Farley. “Recovery has a greater chance of success when communities are involved. Systemic racism and lack of access to recovery resources hinders recovery efforts for many Minnesotans. The Minnesota Department of Health is working to amplify the work of our community partners who provide needed support for people in their recovery journey.”

Naloxone, also known as Narcan®, is a life-saving medication that can be used to reverse the effects of opioids during an overdose. Anyone can carry naloxone, and it is available through a number of sources in Minnesota. 
"As long as someone is alive, they can access treatment resources, making recovery possible,” said MDH epidemiologist Shelbi Giesel. “Prevention efforts like naloxone distribution and linkages to care are promising practices that have the potential to save many lives.” 

More information on and where to find naloxone can be found on the MDH website. Read more about nonfatal overdoses in Minnesota in the Nonfatal Emergency Department Visits for Drug Overdose Among Minnesota Residents 2016-2020 (PDF) report. Visit the MDH Drug Overdose Dashboard to learn more about overdose data, opioid emergency response, lifesaving naloxone, and preventing the demand for drugs.

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