MINNEAPOLIS — The number of people in Minnesota who died from the synthetic opioid fentanyl surged in 2017, according to preliminary numbers released Monday, leading the state health commissioner to call the problem a "fentanyl public health crisis."
The preliminary report released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health says there were 172 deaths involving synthetic opioids in 2017, a 74 percent increase from the year before. Nearly all of those deaths — 91 percent — listed fentanyl as a contributing factor.
"This dramatic increase shows that the opioid epidemic in Minnesota has also become a fentanyl public health crisis," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. "These data confirm that Minnesotans addicted to opioids may unknowingly be exposing themselves to far greater and more deadly risks than they know."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin. The dangers of the drug grabbed international headlines in 2016 when Prince died after taking a counterfeit pill that was laced with it. Authorities have not been able to determine the source of the drug that killed him.
According to the early numbers, overdose deaths from all types of drugs in Minnesota increased 3 percent in 2017, to 694 deaths. That's up from 675 deaths the previous year. The Department of Health said the growing impact of fentanyl has outweighed progress seen in other areas, such as a 29 percent decrease in heroin deaths and a relatively unchanged number of deaths from prescription opioids, according to preliminary data.
The report also says that methamphetamine-related deaths increased 9 percent in 2017, while deaths involving cocaine increased 36 percent — marking the first time cocaine-involved deaths have increased in the past decade.
The numbers are likely to change as researchers continue their work. A final report is expected to be released in September.