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Overdose deaths reach new annual highs, leading to discussion about substance abuse

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 10:39 PM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – It’s a trend that continues: 107,000 overdose deaths reported by the CDC in 2021. The biggest reason for this rise: substances laced with more fatal ingredients, such as fentanyl.

“They may think that they have Percocet and that Percocet pill has been cut with and mixed with fentanyl. Now all of a sudden, they have too much, and it slows their respiration down,” said Heather Geerts, the director of Clinical Services at Zumbro Valley Health Center.

But at health centers like Zumbro Valley in Rochester, drugs only paint part of the picture. The most commonly abused substance continues to be alcohol, and according to CDC data, alcohol-related deaths climbed 34% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic did us no favors. That caused a lot of depression in people, and when you’re depressed, what do you do,” said Sherry Irvin, a writer and Rochester resident.

Irvin has been sober for more than 10 years and now uses her story to help others battle addiction. She says the path toward alcohol abuse is often more drawn out than drug use.

“It is a fatal progressive disease, so the more you drink, you think you’re building that tolerance,” said Irvin.

Because alcohol is easier to find and buy, it leads many more people down a path of abuse.

“Anywhere you go, you will run into a liquor store, or you will go to a restaurant that serves alcohol,” said Irvin.

“It’s probably the number one substance that people come to us for treatment for,” said Geerts.

Approximately 70% of Zumbro Valley’s patients are there due to alcohol use.

“You have a lot more of the population that has access to it, and therefore a higher propensity for abuse,” said Geerts.

Geerts also asserted alcohol’s effects can be more gradual than this uptick in fentanyl-related overdoses they’ve been seeing.

“You can binge drink once and get alcohol poisoning, but you see alcohol addiction typically develops over time,” said Geerts.

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