Opioid-related deaths in Hennepin County hit record high

Carfentanil, a deadly and potent opioid
File photo of a printer ink bottle containing the opioid carfentanil.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police via AP

The number of people who died in Hennepin County last year from opioid use hit a new record and that count is expected to grow.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office reported 162 opioid-related deaths in its preliminary count. Nine more people died last year than in 2016. The number of opioid-related deaths jumped by 47 percent since 2015.

"This is startling to see an almost 50 percent increase in opioid-related deaths during the past two years," Sheriff Rich Stanek said in a press release. "For this reason, the Sheriff's Office will be utilizing all local and federal resources available to us to prevent the illegal supply of drugs from entering our community, and to raise awareness of the public safety and public health epidemic."

Opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed across the nation in recent years. In October, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.

Last year marked the first time that carfentanil was found as a cause of death in Minnesota, resulting in at least 14 deaths by year end, the press release said. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, according to 2016 data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

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