Opioid bill author skeptical of its impact

June 05, 2019 06:25 AM

For many years, several lawmakers pushed hard for legislation to address the rapidly growing opioid overdose epidemic, including two who each lost a child to overdoses. They were finally successful in 2019, but one of those lawmakers remains skeptical it will be enough to make much of a difference.

"I'm hoping that we can at least start preventing some of the addiction and some of the deaths," Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. We spoke to her just a couple days after six people overdosed at a house in South St. Paul, a scene that no longer surprises her.

"I don't know if exasperated is the right word, but I'm just frustrated that no matter how hard we work at this it continues...that this crisis hasn't abated," Eaton said. She's been keenly focused on the opioid epidemic since her 23-year-old daughter, Ariel, died of an overdose in 2007.

The bill that passed last month requires drug companies who manufacture opioids to pay fees totaling $20 million per year to help fund state programs to fight the epidemic. It also creates new guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids and pharmacies who dispense them. The bill also will fund programs for addicts and their families, provide resources for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to more closely monitor opioid deaths and overdoses, and create a 19-member advisory council to provide guidance.

Still, after what she saw happen in South St. Paul and elsewhere, she's not optimistic the bill provides enough money to do what she thinks needs to be done. Even after all the publicity for many years about the dangers of opioids, 422 people still died of overdoses in 2017 (the latest year figures available) and more than 2,000 additional people ended up in emergency rooms.

"I'm confident we're going to try," Eaton said after being asked if she thinks the opioid bill will have a big impact. "I don't think it's enough money to make a difference. I think it's enough money to make a dent."

The funding will start kicking in after July 1st when the state's new fiscal year begins.

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Tom Hauser

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