Public Health Corner: Opioid related deaths are on the rise in state

Opioid related deaths continue to rise in Minnesota, both from opioid pain relievers and heroin. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in 2015 there were 221 deaths from opioid pain relievers and 114 from heroin in the state. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency last year.

Opioids are a group of medications that are primarily used to manage pain. They are commonly known as “pain relievers” because they are often prescribed for pain. Opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain. For example, when prescribed by a doctor, opioids can safely help control pain following surgery or a painful injury. In recent years, there has been an increase in the acceptance of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic pain. They are also important in palliative care to help those with severe, chronic pain that may occur in some terminal conditions, such as cancer.

Some common prescription opioids are hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), morphine, methadone, and fentanyl. Heroin is an illegal opioid. When opioid medication attaches to receptors in your brain cells, the cells release signals that diminish your perception of pain and increase your feelings of pleasure.

If you are taking pain medication, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and take the medication exactly as prescribed. Also, tell your doctor of all other medications and supplements you are taking. When you are finished with the medication, dispose of any remaining medication properly. A drop off box is located at the Brown County Sheriff’s Office in New Ulm.

Opioids can be highly addictive. With continued use, tolerance, meaning a person needs to take more of the medication for the same pain relief, may develop. The feelings of pleasure can make you want to continue experiencing those feelings, which can lead to addiction. Physical dependency, where you might have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is abruptly discontinued, is another risk of long term use of opioids.

The CDC refers to research that has identified risk factors for opioid abuse and overdose. They include:

• Obtaining overlapping prescriptions from numerous health care providers and pharmacies

• Taking high doses of prescription opioid pain relievers every day

• Having mental illness or a history of other substance abuse

• Living in a rural area and having a lower income

While opioids are used for treating pain, they can be dangerous. Higher doses can slow your breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. Or the combination of an opioid with another depressant drug can lead to respiratory depression. The following are common signs of an opioid overdose: small, constricted, pinpoint pupils, unconsciousness, slow, shallow breathing, choking or gurgling sounds, limp body, pale, blue or cold skin.

Opioid effects can be reversed with an opioid antagonist, such as naloxone, also known as Narcan. This is considered to be the standard treatment for respiratory depression following opioid overdose. Naloxone works quickly to reverse the opioid effect on the brain, but is only temporary. Be sure to remain with the person and call 911 because Narcan’s effects wear off after 20-45 minutes. EMS can respond and transfer a person to the local emergency department. Naloxone is only effective for an opioid overdose; it will not work on other overdoses. If you are at risk or know someone who is at risk, naloxone is available without a prescription at the pharmacy.

Opioids are not the only classification of drugs that are addictive but currently one of the most concerning nationwide. Addiction is a disease. If you are suffering from an addiction, seek treatment. Contact your local health care provider for services. The National Helpline is 1-800-622-4357 and offers 24/7 confidential information for persons or family members facing substance disorders.

You can learn more about opioids in order to protect yourself and your loved ones from opioid abuse and overdose –

For more information about the work in Brown County to prevent underage substance abuse go to