News Release: State reports record drug overdose deaths in 2021

minnesota department of health

State reports record drug overdose deaths in 2021

Increasing prevalence of fentanyl thought to be a contributing factor

Minnesota public health officials reported a record number of overdose deaths in 2021, following an alarming pattern seen in many other states in recent years. According to a new report issued this week by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), most overdose deaths in 2021 were associated with fentanyl, a powerful drug that continues to become more common across the country.

The 1,286 overdose deaths reported to MDH last year represented a 22% increase from the 2020 total. This averages more than three people dying every day from an overdose of any drug type. For the first time since 2014, there was a larger percentage increase in overdose deaths in Greater Minnesota (23%) than in the seven-county metropolitan area (20%).

“This increase in drug overdose deaths is alarming, but there are things we can do about it,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “One important step is to expand programs that make it easier for people to access naloxone – a medication that can reverse overdoses and save lives.”

Figure 1: The number of drug overdose deaths in 2021 was the highest annual number ever recorded

drug overdose deaths

Preliminary data from 2021 showed a 35% increase in the total number of overdose deaths involving opioids since 2020 (an increase from 685 deaths in 2020 to 924 deaths in 2021).  Drug overdoses from non-opioids also increased from 2020 to 2021, including a 34% increase in overdose deaths involving methamphetamine (338 in 2020 to 454 in 2021) and 81% increase from overdose deaths involving cocaine (85 in 2020 to 154 in 2021).

Many of the opioid overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. These deaths increased from 560 in 2020 to 834 in 2021. Through analysis of death certificates, MDH found that fentanyl was involved in 90% of all deaths involving opioids. Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid. A dose as small as three grains of rice can be lethal. Fentanyl is becoming more common in illicit drugs, even laced in other drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine.  

The rise in fentanyl circulating in communities could be a contributing factor in the increase in overdose deaths. Resources like fentanyl test strips can help prevent overdose and are available through community partners and local public health agencies. The Naloxone Finder on the Know the Dangers website can help people locate naloxone, which can be picked up at any time and kept in case of an overdose.

The full report can be accessed here: Preliminary Drug Overdose Death 2021 Report (PDF).