Hennepin County officials and community organizations are launching an effort that they hope will reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths in the county this year.
The new campaign follows the release of statistics showing that the state's most populous county saw an increase of more than 30 percent in opioid overdose deaths last year.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said opioids, the family of drugs that includes opioid painkillers and heroin, killed 144 people in the county in 2016. Those who died ranged in age from 16 to 98.
"If we had 144 homicides in Hennepin County, people would be shouting," Stanek said. "What's the difference?"
Stanek said law enforcement is good at investigating the criminal aspect of the drug epidemic, but it needs community partners to help raise awareness of the dangers of overdose.
"We can do more. The public safety messaging is important," Stanek said. "We want to get the message out far and wide that we've got a problem and it's going to take the community to help us get back on track here."
They're calling the campaign "NOverdose."
Stanek has been a vocal advocate of policy to prevent opioid overdose deaths, including the 2015 Steve's Law, which made the opioid antidote naloxone more widely available.
Hennepin was one of the first counties in the state to outfit sheriff's deputies with naloxone. Stanek said deputies have reversed overdoses with the antidote at least six times in the county in the last few months.
Statewide numbers for opioid overdose deaths 2016 aren't yet available, but at least 338 people died in 2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers of deaths statewide has increased fivefold since 1999.
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