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Local experts discuss rise in overdose deaths

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX47) — According to provisional data by the CDC, approximately 93,000 Americans lost their lives to an overdose in 2020, which is a nearly 30% increase year-over-year.

One attribution to this rise is illegally sold drugs are laced with even more lethal substances.

“Unfortunately, all of the drugs are being tainted with fentanyl. Which is an ultra potent opioid,” said Dr. Halena Gazelka, a pain specialist at Mayo Clinic. “People are getting more and more potent drugs. They’re not aware that they’re getting the fentanyl, typically, in the supply that they’re getting. They don’t know how to dose it.”

“When they’re really struggling and try to get that easy access to those substances, they’re really trying to find it wherever they can and that increases the risk that it might be laced with something else,” said Corey Kanz, a substance use program director at Zumbro Valley Health Center.

Another contributing factor was the pandemic, which led to unprecedented social isolation and shut down non-essential medical services.

“We also closed our medical practices essentially except for emergency care, and so people who have been receiving or have needed to receive substances or treatments for addiction were unable to receive it,” said Gazelka.

Kanz believes mental health issues is an especially hard obstacle, when struggling with substance addiction.

“Mental health and substance use really coincide with one another, and try to figure out which one to treat first and how to treat both at the same time,” said Kanz.

Both Gazelka and Kanz said educating the public and staying on top of those struggling are some of the biggest solutions to this problem. Kanz refers to the latter as a “smooth handoff.”

“Educating the public, which involves providers and clinics and hospitals doing that. But also, just how we talke about opioids,” said Gazelka.

“Transitioning from one facility to another so we don’t lose them,” said Kanz. “We don’t want to lose them in the cracks or lose them, you know, with days gone by, try to have to relocate and run the risk of having them relapse.”

Noah Caplan

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