Drug overdose deaths up 42 percent in MN for the year ending March 2021

One of the biggest impacts that have come from COVID-19 restrictions has been a huge spike in deaths of despair. Minnesota and other states have seen an increase in deaths associated with drug overdose, as well as excessive alcoholism. Unfortunately, new data from the CDC shows that we probably haven’t seen the worst of it yet when it comes to overdose deaths.

According to the newest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths in the country increased by 29.6 percent between March 2020 and March 2021. In Minnesota, however, the rate of increase was 42.3 percent. This is slightly lower than the rate of increase in the year ending February 2021 –– 44 percent.

Between March 2020 and 2021, Minnesota experienced the 10th highest rate of increase in the nation and the highest rate among all our neighboring states. In fact, all of our four neighbor states experienced an increase of less than 20 percent, with South Dakota facing a decline in overdose deaths.

Figure: Over the year change in overdose deaths, March 2020 – March 2021

Overdose deaths have generally been rising consistently in Minnesota since 2015 according to CDC data. However, the increases were small until March 2020, when deaths exceeded 800.

Since March 2020, Minnesota, like most states, has experienced an elevated increase in overdose deaths, with the highest number of deaths being recorded in March 2021. In March 2021, Minnesota experienced 1,177 overdose deaths, which is 350 higher than the number of deaths recorded in March 2020.

This elevated increase in deaths can also be seen when we look at the annual average change in deaths. Between January 2015 and January 2020, Minnesota experienced, on average additional 36 overdose deaths per year. In January 2021, however, that number doubled after accounting for the high numbers of overdose deaths that characterized most of 2020.

As I have written before, this should not be a surprising trend. COVID-19 restrictions kept individuals isolated, uncertain, and unable to access much-needed help services. This increase in overdose deaths is a big result of that.

What’s left to see is whether our lawmakers will take responsibility for imposing such huge negative impacts on individuals who for the most part had very little risk of getting sick or dying from COVID-19.