St. Louis County seeing opioid overdose numbers increase this year

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: December 04, 2020 06:23 PM
Created: December 04, 2020 10:31 AM

The Northland has seen an increase in overdose deaths this year as many battling addiction face even more challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 has proven to be a tough year for those struggling with opioid addiction but agencies are working together to let those struggling with addiction know that there is help out there. 

"We're definitely trending up and this is notoriously the worst time of the year for overdoses," said Lt. Jeff Kazel, the commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

Local numbers show from January through Nov. 30 this year there have been 255 overdoses, 25 of them fatal, in St. Louis County. Last year there were 230 overdoses, 22 were fatal. In 2018, there were 151 overdoses and 13 fatalities. This shows the growing issue in opioid addiction.

"With COVID-19, it is really hard for their recovery environments to be built. We have housing instability, their routines are all being disrupted now and the lack of employment," said Randi Musch, the alcohol and drug counselor supervisor for the Duluth Bethel.

Musch said she has noticed the effects COVID-19 has had on those struggling with addiction. She said there have seen more clients as a result. She said the added stress and the risk of relapse is a lot higher because of the disruption but reminds people there is a lot of help out there.

"There's so many resources out there and just being able to connect online with most of those resources. There's so many things for families to get connected with through support groups," Musch.

Lisa Fulton, the program director of the substance use disorder programming at Duluth Bethel said they have implemented all requirements of the Department of Human Service's COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to keep staff and residents safe. They have not had an outbreak. 

"We have seen an influx of referrals of people struggling with an opioid use disorder since the onset of COVID.  For people who are out their struggling, we encourage them to reach out for help. They are not alone and do not have to struggle in silence. Free confidential mental health and substance use disorders guidance is being offered to Minnesotans by calling 1-833-HERE4MN," said Fulton.

It's a team effort between these agencies and police to help those struggling with addiction.

"I'm positive that we've saved multiple lives as a result of the outreach and the follow up that we've done with these people," said Kazel.

More help is on the way in the county that community leaders hope will make a difference in seeing numbers go down.

"We received some good news in mid October this year that we received a 2021 COSAP grant. COSAP is comprehensive opioid stimulant substance abuse program. We received $899,000 for us to supplement our substance use response team to go out and help people," said Kazel.

Anyone in need of help is asked to call the St. Louis County Substance Misuse Intake line at 218-725-5260.

Duluth Bethel is reminding the community they are also taking people in. You can reach them at 218-740-3787.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released a report Thursday saying there has been an increase in 2020 overdose deaths.

According to new statewide data released by MDH, drug overdose deaths increased 31% during the first half of 2020 as compared to the first half of 2019. The first half of 2019 from January to June showed 373 deaths while the first half of 2020 showed 490 deaths.

MDH said overdose deaths in 2020 started to increase in March, largely driven by an increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths. They said approximately 80% of all opioid-involved deaths during this time involved synthetic opioids.

According to MDH, from January through June of 2019 and 2020, deaths in all drug categories – all opioid-involved, synthetic opioids, commonly prescribed opioids, heroin, psychostimulants, benzodiazepines, and cocaine – were higher in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019.

Also when looking at the data by age group, MDH finds that Minnesotans between ages 25-34 experienced the largest increase in drug overdose deaths – from 81 in the first half of 2019 to 128 in the first half of 2020.

Drug overdose deaths increased in both the seven-county metropolitan area and Greater Minnesota from 2019 to 2020. Drug overdose deaths in Greater Minnesota increased 36% from January through June 2019 with 124 compared to the same period in 2020 with 169.

Data from July 2020 and later isn't available yet. A full report on 2020 data is anticipated next year. A preliminary report from MDH can be found here.

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Alejandra Palacios

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