Lawmakers Propose Efforts to Combat Minnesota Opioid Epidemic

February 21, 2017 08:02 PM

Minnesota lawmakers are taking on the opioid epidemic Tuesday.

They have a full slate of events, from raising awareness about the issue, to the introduction of bills, to combat opioid abuse.


Opioid abuse is a national issue that hits very close to home. Advocates say the number of people who have died from this particular prescription drug is sadly rising.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office reports that 144 people died of overdoses last year, which is a 31 percent jump from 2015. Law enforcement officials say the victims were between the ages of 16 and 98.

Tuesday, lawmakers will implement a plan to combat opioid abuse by introducing four new bills.

One of the bills focuses on an increased drug monitoring program for patients.

Another places strict requirements on pharmacies for taking back unused medicine and making sure it is disposed properly.

Several efforts to stop prescription painkiller abuse are in effect throughout the state.

One of the most aggressive bills is Senate File 730. 

"The bill is basically charging a fee on the license to our manufacturers that are bringing in morphine into our state. A penny on a milligram and on their previous sales," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center. 

During the news conference, Shelly Elkington, who lost her daughter to these drugs in 2015, called the legislation hope that lives can be saved. 

"It gives communities the opportunity to create their own solutions. I don't think I've come across a piece of legislation that does that directly," said Elkinton, of Montevideo. 

During a Health and Human Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Dr. Chris Johnson of Allina Heath Urgent Care told lawmakers he got involved in the opioid epidemic crisis in 2005.

"I saw way too many patients that died from abusing chronic pain medication," Johnson said. "Over the years, the amount of deaths from this crisis is increasing at a fast and alarming rate."

Johnson said legislation from a bill is not enough to help the medical community combat prescription pain medication abuse.

Dr. Kurt Devine of Little Falls, Minnesota, also spoke to lawmakers at the committee hearing. In the past two years he has been working on a strict prescription drug monitoring program.

Devine developed a plan to help solve the problem of opioid abuse by creating a team of nurses, social workers and pharmacists who monitor and manage more than 300 Little Falls patients on chronic pain medications.

"A program like this needs to be implemented in other cities and town across the state other than Little Falls," Devine said. "The goal is keep less chronic pain medications off the street."

Last week, in an effort to raise public awareness, attorneys general from both Wisconsin and Minnesota launched a powerful new television ad campaign called Dose of Reality.

Minnesota's attorney general Lori Swanson said that although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world population, Americans consume 80 percent of the world's painkillers.

On the national level, President Donald Trump has weighed in on the fight against opioid abuse.

He said he plans to expand on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which helps prescription drug addicts get the help they need to recover.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Lindsey Brown

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