Written By: John Lundy | Duluth News Tribune

The number of drug overdose deaths dropped steeply in Minnesota last year, the state Department of Health reported Tuesday.

Calling the data preliminary, the health department said the number of overdose deaths in the state dropped from 733 in 2017 to 607 in 2018 — a decrease of 17 percent.

But in a news release, the health department noted that overdose rates remain at historic highs and said much work remains to be done.

The decreases were led by reduced heroin and reduced prescription opioid deaths, the health department reported — 195 to 134 for the latter and 111 to 85 for the former.

But the number of deaths related to synthetic opioids — primarily illegally manufactured fentanyl — continued to increase.

Preliminary counts tend to rise somewhat as death certificates come in from other states involving Minnesota residents who died of overdoses outside of Minnesota, the news release added.