Drug Overdose Deaths Exceed Traffic Fatalities for the First Time In Minnesota

By McCarton Ackerman 10/10/14

Despite efforts to curb abuse and to inform the public, the North Star State has been plagued by a number of drug-related problems.

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Public safety officials in Minnesota have voiced concern after drug overdose deaths exceeded traffic-related fatalities for the first time ever.

The state Health Department reported that in 2013, 503 Minnesotans died from drug overdoses, compared to 374 deaths from motor vehicle accidents. About 200 of these overdose deaths came from prescription painkillers, while 91 came from heroin. Since 2000, nearly 5,000 people throughout the state have died from overdoses.

“It’s heartbreaking for families and the community and for me,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, “I sometimes feel like I’m losing that war, but I’m not sure what else to do other than to try to raise the awareness in the communities of the dangers of this. I think we need to scream about it, not just talk about it.”

Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, believes that the state’s prescription drug problem comes from overtreating chronic pain with painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. To help combat the issue, the pharmacy board has actively worked to shut down websites illegally selling these medications.

Law enforcement agencies have also created drug take-back programs, community forums, drug courts, and a combined drug task force. Health officials launched a synthetic drug awareness website last August called KnowTheDangers.com, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation in 2011 which banned numerous synthetics.

However, several of these accidental overdose deaths have led to criminal charges for the person distributing the drug. Emily Frye of Oakdale was convicted and sentenced to seven years behind bars for selling 23 methadone pills to a Scandia man who overdosed and died. Last May, two young adults and three teenagers were charged in the overdose death of Tara Fitzgerald, a 17-year-old honor student who took a synthetic drug marketed as LSD. Two of the five have since pleaded guilty.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.