Fentanyl drives rise in Minnesota opioid deaths

Opioid overdose deaths increased in Minnesota last year, due largely to a surge in cases related to the potent synthetic drug fentanyl.

Preliminary figures showed 172 deaths linked to synthetic drugs in 2017 — a 74 percent increase from 2016 — the Minnesota Department of Health reported Monday morning. Almost all of those deaths involved legal and illicit forms of fentanyl.

The overall number of opioid deaths in Minnesota rose more gradually, from 675 in 2016 to 694 in 2017, as deaths from common prescription painkillers remained constant over the last two years.

“This dramatic increase shows that the opioid epidemic in Minnesota has also become a fentanyl public health crisis,” said state 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.”

An investigation into the 2016 death of pop star Prince concluded last month that he had overdosed on counterfeit pills that were made to look like common painkillers but actually contained potent fentanyl. Monday’s report didn’t determine how many deaths were due to legally prescribed forms of fentanyl, such as patches and tablets, and how many reflected illicit or counterfeit versions.

Deaths linked to heroin also increased 27 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the state’s preliminary figures.

A final report on opioid deaths in the state is expected in September.

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