Overdose graph

A graph shows drug overdose deaths dipped in 2018 statewide, in the Twin Cities metro and in greater Minnesota.

MANKATO — Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota dipped in 2018, according to preliminary numbers released Tuesday.

The Minnesota Department of Health’s data indicated 607 residents died from drug overdoses in 2018, compared to 733 the year prior. More deaths could be added to the 2018 figure once the department releases its final report in September.

The 17 percent drop in overdose deaths is a positive sign, said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, but it doesn’t mean the state can declare victory in the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“We need to remember that overdose rates remain at historic highs,” she said. “In 2018, an average of five Minnesotans every day experienced a non-fatal opioid overdose.”

She said the state’s efforts to improve access to the naloxone overdose reversal drug and update prescribing guidelines seem to be working. Further education on opioids and alternative options for pain management will continue.

Deaths related to both prescription opioids and heroin dropped last year, while deaths caused by synthetic opioids continued to rise.

Fentanyl accounted for 94 percent of the 195 overdose deaths from synthetic opioids.

The final numbers set for release this fall should include more local overdose death data. Blue Earth County peaked at five overdose deaths as recently as 2016, but more recent overdose deaths and hospitalizations occurred in Mankato and the surrounding area as recently as April.

Three people were hospitalized within a three-day period in April after overdosing on heroin in North Mankato. About a month earlier, a rural Mankato woman died after overdosing on counterfeit oxycodone.

Malcolm said the final report could have higher overdose numbers due to additional death certificates coming in late for Minnesota residents who died outside the state in 2018. The 2017 numbers rose from 694 to 733 deaths between the preliminary and final report.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola