ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Though public health this past year has mainly been focused on COVID-19, another epidemic appears to be accelerating across the country.
A group led by Mayo doctors met Wednesday with the intention of changing the narrative around drug addiction. Their aim was to remove the stigma surrounding drug use and to treat it like other debilitating illnesses.
"And just like cancer, where we would not turn our backs on somebody that has cancer, we should not be turning our backs on people with addiction problems," said Judy Greske, a paramedic. Greske lost her son, Jason Dobesenski, to a reaction from drugs in September, 2020.
2020 was one of the worst years for the drug epidemic in history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately 87,000 people died from overdoses and other substance abuses. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the state had a 31 percent increase in drug-related deaths year-over-year.
"Every single drug of abuse is increasing. Things that we thought have been put on the backburner from the 60s abuse, are back in full force," said Dr. Teri Rummans.
Experts also emphasized how many cases of addiction actually start with prescribed drugs, rather than illegally obtained substances.
"People don't go out into the street and take heroin the first time that they take an opioid typically. They get a prescription opioid from someone," said Dr. Helena Gazelka.
On how to reverse the ongoing drug crisis, experts highlighted education as a key factor.
"It has social factors and psychological factors. Then we have to try and start to work together so that we can reach out to people who we see in front of us, and try to make a difference in their lives," said Rummans.