The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office says first responders in cities outside of Minneapolis used an antidote to successfully counteract an opioid overdose 50 times since early 2016.
In response to rising opioid overdose deaths in Hennepin County, firefighters or police officers in all 45 small cities and towns now carry naloxone, also known as Narcan, that can reverse an overdose by an opioid, which includes heroin, fentanyl or prescription painkillers.
Preliminary numbers in Hennepin County show at least 162 opioid overdose deaths last year, although the sheriff's office expects that number to rise as more toxicology results are processed. The early numbers represent an almost 50 percent increase since 2015.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office was the first law enforcement agency in the state to equip officers with naloxone since a 2014 state law permitted it.
Sheriff Richard Stanek said his office has been working with police and fire departments across the county to help them equip their own officers with naloxone.
"Now, we're starting to fire on all cylinders. Educators, business people, elected officials, law enforcement [and] average citizens are getting engaged, becoming aware of hazards of opioid overdose," Stanek said. "They're doing something about it."
About 400 Minnesotans died of opioid overdoses in 2016. The number of people killed by opioid overdoses has increased steadily across the United States for the last decade and a half.