COVID OD on the Rise

A record number of Minnesotans died from drug overdoses during the pandemic. Youth were hit hardest.

Data on 2020 overdose deaths show that Minnesota and America experienced soaring drug fatalities as COVID-19 restrictions took hold.

The latest federal numbers cover October 2019 to October 2020, a one-year stretch with a 28 percent increase in fatal overdoses and 88,990 overall deaths, according to data from the National Vital Statistics System. In Minnesota, the Department of Health data cover all of 2020 and reveal a 27 percent increase in overdose deaths, much of it attributed to young people, despite being COVID’s lowest-risk demographic.

In 2020, 274 individuals aged 25 to 34 died from an overdose, while only 15 died from COVID-19. To put it in perspective, individuals aged 25 to 34 were 18 times more likely to die from overdose than from COVID-19. The biggest discrepancy in risk is among individuals aged 15 to 24 –– they were 40 times more likely to die from an overdose than from COVID-19. “With COVID there’s this terrible storm about lack of access to treatment medications, housing and treatment facilities,” said Dr. Ryan Kelly, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Overdose deaths spiked to record levels in March 2020; monthly deaths grew around 50 percent between February and May, to more than 9,000, according to estimates from the Commonwealth Fund, a policy group that aims to make health care more efficient. U.S. monthly overdose deaths had never before risen above 6,300.

Opioids accounted for about 75 percent of overdose deaths during the early months of the pandemic. Around 80 percent of those included synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

The Commonwealth Fund estimated back in March that, based on weekly estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020 overdose deaths could top 90,000, which “would not only be the highest annual number on record but the largest single-year percentage increase in the past 20 years.”