St. Paul experiences overdose spike over last few weeks

St. Paul saw 34 suspected overdoses from December 27 through January 3. Two overdoses were fatal

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St. Paul saw 34 suspected overdoses from December 27 through January 3. Two overdoses were fatal, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

In Minnesota, 422 people died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2017, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Julie Bartkey, a public information officer at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) for opioids, told The Center Square that overdose deaths are preventable.

“Naloxone is one tool toward that prevention, and communities are trying to tailor their prevention efforts and their treatment efforts to what works for those populations,” Bartkey said.

Barkey emphasized the danger of illicit drugs.

“We caution people that not even their drug dealer knows what’s in those drugs,” Barkey said. “So the best effort is not to do them at all.”

Cody Bassett, a naloxone coordinator at MDH, told The Center Square that the number one strategy for reducing opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota is using naloxone, an opioid overdose drug that can be injected or inhaled as a nasal spray.

Naloxone is carried by first responders, emergency medical services, and law enforcement, Bassett said, and must be prescribed in Minnesota.

“You can speak with your doctor or your pharmacist if you’re concerned about your opioid prescription, or even a friend or family member’s opioid prescription,” Bassett said, adding that nonprofits across the state hold training sessions that provide education, training and often Naloxone kits.

Naloxone can only revive people from opioid-involved overdoses but isn’t effective at reviving people from a multiple drug overdose, such as one involving opioids and methamphetamine, because the drug blocks opioid receptors.

Colin Planalp, a research fellow at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC), tracks opioid deaths.

From 2000-2011, most increases in deaths were driven by prescription opioids, Planalp told The Center Square, but around 2011-2012, deaths from prescription opioids leveled out, and was replaced by deaths from heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

That change could stem from several factors including increased trafficking amounts of heroin and synthetic opioids, a crackdown in 2011 on prescription painkillers, and reforming prescription opioids to make them tamper-resistant, Planalp said.

Planalp said past provisional data has indicated more multi-drug overdoses, such as a combination of multiple types of opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, or including non-opioids, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

In 2017, the most recent data available, 75 percent of cocaine overdoses involved an opioid, and half of methamphetamine overdoses also involved opioids, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Policymakers at different levels of government have increased access to Naloxone, Planalp said, adding that he didn’t have data on the effectiveness of those policies.

Planalp said the CDC hasn’t yet released overdose death data from 2018, but looking at provisional data, deaths from prescription opioids seem to have declined, deaths from heroin remained relatively steady, but synthetic opioid deaths continued to increase.

“So where we are right now, we’re starting to see some progress in turning the tide for some specific kind of opioids, especially prescription opioids, but it’s yet to be seen that we’ve been able to turn the tide for synthetic opioids, or heroin,” Planalp said.

Just about every demographic group in the United States has been affected by the opioid crisis with significant increases in overdose death rates, Planalp said.

“I believe it’s possible to turn the tide, but it’s not clear that we’ve reached that point, and we may be at a point in 2018, 2019, and 2020 where things could continue to get worse before they get better,” Planalp said.

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