GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — In just two weeks, at least 17 people have died in Minnesota due to drug overdoses, and medical professionals say there is reason to believe that the problem could get worse before it gets better.
"This is a public health emergency and it's going to affect all sectors of our society," said Dr. Gavin Bart, Director of the Hennepin Healthcare Division of Addiction Medicine. "It's a tragedy to see this happen, especially to see so many die so quickly. It makes me think that there must be a new batch of something in town and people don't really know what they're getting their hands on."
Dr. Bart says more and more drugs sold on the street are being been cut with Fentanyl.
"Which is a synthetic opioid that's 50-100 times stronger than heroin," Bart said. "There are parts of the country where there isn't even heroin anymore, it's just been completely replaced, by fentanyl."
According to the BCA, the number of drugs it has collected containing opioids such as fentanyl has risen 78 percent compared to the same time last year.
Which is why first responders say the number of deaths could easily be much higher than 17 in two weeks.
"Without access to Naloxone it would be much higher," said Mike Trullinger, a Battallian Chief for Hennepin EMS. "So far this month, this being the 8th of June, we've used it 40 times."
Naloxone is an opioid overdose antidote that is now readily available to everyone.
"It takes anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds for it to begin working," Dr. Bart said. "It requires no technical skill and it can save a life,"
Most insurance companies now cover the cost of naloxone and many places offer it for free as part of overdose prevention kits.
"It should be available to anyone who knows someone or has a friend or a loved one or an acquaintance who they worry about may be using drugs," Dr. Bart said.
"That's the important thing," Trullinger said. "It's not all about the numbers. Each life we save is important to someone. Maybe this is the time that they're finally going to make it through treatment or at least get that ball rolling, get help."
The Steve Rummler Hope Network distributes naloxone and overdose rescue kits throughout the region. They also provide regular trainings. If you'd like more information, click here.