Walz creates new position, subcabinet, council to combat opioid epidemic

Gov. Tim Walz has taken executive action in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic and substance abuse in Minnesota.

Walz signed an executive order on Thursday that creates a new interagency subcabinet, an advisory council and a director position to lead the work. The governor’s action also calls for an independent consultant to review the Minnesota Department of Human Services with a focus on addiction and treatment services.

According to the order, an Opioids, Substance Use, and Addiction Subcabinet will be created to identify challenges and opportunities for treating and supporting those with substance abuse or addiction problems. The subcabinet will then work to develop policies to reduce barriers and gaps in service for Minnesotans.

The subcabinet will include the heads of the Human Services, Health, Education and Public Safety departments, as well as the leaders of Minnesota Management and Budget, the Office of Higher Education, and the Interagency Council on Homelessness. The newly created Addiction and Recovery Director will chair the subcabinet and work as the governor’s point person for addressing opioids and substance abuse.

The Governor’s Advisory Council on Opioids, Substance Use, and Addiction will advise the subcabinet, meeting up to four times per year to work on those same focuses for the subcabinet and examine needs for communities disproportionally impacted by the opioid epidemic while providing opportunities for those who’ve experienced addiction.

The advisory council will be made up of 15 members of the public, as appointed by the governor. Anyone interested in serving on the council should apply by April 21.

Walz’s office cited the dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths in Minnesota over the past 20 years as the reason for the action.

In 2000, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 54 overdose deaths. That number has steadily increased since then and jumped to a high of 678 deaths in 2020.

More than 5,400 Minnesotans have died from opioid overdoses in Minnesota since 2000, and nonfatal overdoses from synthetic opioids also rose 86% from 2019 to 2020.

The governor’s office noted people of color and Indigenous people are particularly impacted and have some of the worst racial disparities in drug overdoses in the country. Native Americans in Minnesota are seven times more likely to die from opioid-related overdoses than white people, and African Americans in Minnesota are twice as likely.

“Minnesotans across the state are struggling with opioids, substance use disorder, and addiction – a crisis which has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walz in a statement. “Today I’m proud to announce a new leadership position to focus these efforts, and launch a new subcabinet and advisory council to help build on the work we’re already doing to craft innovative solutions aimed at fighting addiction and saving lives in Minnesota.”