Heroin-related deaths rising in Minnesota

Needle exchange
Syringes given out at the Minnesota AIDS Project needle exchange are displayed in Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.
Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

Some states, including Minnesota, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Minnesota:


Minnesota has seen an alarming rise in heroin-related deaths in recent years and a tenfold increase in the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction.

Jack Riley, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's special agent in charge of the Chicago office, which oversees Minnesota, likened heroin to "a weapon of mass destruction on a family, on a community, on society."

Authorities say heroin is cheap in Minnesota, easy to get and among the purest in the country.

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There have been 290 heroin-related deaths in Minnesota from 1999 through 2013, according to preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Health.

The number of deaths took a big jump in 2011, when there were 50 deaths, compared with just 15 the year before. Another big jump came in 2013, when 98 heroin-related deaths were reported statewide, according to preliminary figures from the health department.

Meanwhile, the number of people entering heroin treatment programs has increased tenfold over the last 20 years.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services, the number of people admitted to drug treatment when heroin was the primary drug used was 450 in 1993, compared with 4,519 for just part of 2013, the most current figures available.

In 2012, heroin users made up 8.8 percent of all people admitted to drug treatment centers, up from 1.3 percent in 1993. The majority of those seeking treatment for heroin ranged from ages 25 to 44.


Minnesota launched a statewide strategy to curb prescription drug and opiate abuse in 2012, which included efforts to educate doctors who were overprescribing these drugs.

This session, lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow police officers and others to carry naloxone, a heroin antidote known by the brand name Narcan. Authorities say naloxone can prevent some heroin overdose deaths if administered in time. The bill would also allow anyone who seeks help for someone experiencing a drug overdose to be immune from prosecution for sharing, using or possessing drugs.

Action is also being taken on the community level. Authorities in Anoka and Hennepin counties recently held forums to educate parents and others about heroin.

"We, on the public safety end, are trying to obviously combat the problem after it's out there," Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said. "If parents ... can combat the problem before it begins, we're all far better off."