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ND had 118 overdose deaths in 2020

Pam Sagness, ND Human Services Department
Poppy Mills/NDDOT
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Pam Sagness, ND Human Services Department

Overdose deaths in the US are climbing.

Those deaths topped 100,000 last year.

North Dakota is also reporting something similar, said North Dakota's director of the Behavioral Health Division of the state's Department of Human Services.

"Drug-related overdoses claimed 118 lives in North Dakota, in 2020," said Pam Sagness. "That's a 49 percent increase from the 79 overdose deaths we saw in 2019."

Sagness said the Division has a multi-faceted strategy on preventing overdose deaths. She said one is preventing death at the point of overdose.

"For example, making sure that individuals have access to Naloxone, or Narcan, and know how to administer that," Sagness said. "That's basically an antidote for an overdose."

Sagness said both are readily available – and are offered free by the Department.

Another strategy is to connect people to effective treatment.

"We focus a lot on insuring that we have quicker access to services or treatment, but also that those treatment services include a full realm of services for individuals, like medication-assisted treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy — really what individuals need," Sagness said.

But Sagness said providing treatment in rural areas remains a challenge.

"One of the most effective treatments for opioid disorder is methadone," Sagness said. "In North Dakota, those treatment programs are only available in three of our primary cities."

Sagness said individuals may often drive hundreds of miles in a week, or in a day, to access that vital medication. She said the Department is now working on expanding treatment availability.

"We have some funding out to expand those services into other areas — like Grand Forks — and in the West," Sagness said. "So we're very optimistic we will see better access to those medications and those treatment programs."