More Rally Behind Minnesota’s New Opioid Plan

Opioid misuse, abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths are rampant across the United States. In 2016, close to 400 people died from opioid overdoses in the state of Minnesota. The rate of opioid overdose deaths has steadily increased since 2010 around the country. In an effort to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in the state, Minnesota lawmakers are proposing a plan to raise $20 million for opioid overdose prevention and response by increasing drug company fees.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are drugs that bind to receptors in the brain to produce painkilling effects. Examples of opioids are prescription painkiller pills, fentanyl, and heroin. Opioid misuse has become a crisis in the country largely because of an increase in painkiller prescriptions. Many unsuspecting patients become dependent on prescription painkillers, then experience withdrawals and addiction. They may then convert to heroin to continue their addictions, because it is often easier and cheaper to obtain.

The Opioid Crisis in Minnesota

In 2016, Minnesota clinics and offices dispensed more than 3.5 million opioid prescriptions to patients. The most commonly prescribed opioids were hydrocodone, oxycodone, and tramadol. Prescription opioid overdoses account for the highest number of drug overdose deaths in the state. In 2016, 194 Minnesotans died from prescription opioid overdose, while 150 died from heroin-related overdoses.

The Minnesota opioid crisis is causing harm to tribal communities and communities of color in the state. In 2015, American Indians in Minnesota were five times more prone to fatal drug overdoses than non-Indians. African-American Minnesotans were twice as likely to die from drug overdoses than white citizens. The crisis is also contributing to a drastic increase in babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which can cause hypertonia, seizures, respiratory problems, and other serious health issues in infants.

Minnesota’s Latest Plan to Combat Opioid Addiction

In early 2019, Minnesota lawmakers proposed a new opioid plan. The plan is a piece of bipartisan legislation aimed to increase funding for opioid epidemic education and prevention in the state. Lawmakers wish to obtain $20 million per year to dedicate toward addressing the state’s opioid problems. A portion of the annual sum would come from increases to licensing fees for drug companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids.

The plan has the support of both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, sending a unified message to opioid manufacturing companies. Others have also rallied behind the plan, including state Senator Chris Eaton, parents of children who have died from opioid overdoses, and Charles “Chazz” Smith – a cousin of the late musician Prince. Prince died from an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2016. Chazz Smith attended Minnesota’s rally at the state Capitol on January 30th to support the new plan.

At the rally, which occurred on the third annual Opioid Awareness Day, Smith said, “We’re losing legends, we’re losing potential legends, and that’s a shame.” He and others are part of a renewed effort to pass the piece of legislation. The new plan proposes increasing licensing fees, which are currently $235 per year for pharmaceutical companies in Minnesota. It is still unclear how much these fees would increase with the passing of the new plan, as well as how much of the $20 million goal would come from drug makers.

Outlook for the Future

Although still under review, so far Minnesota’s new opioid plan has resounding support from many legislators, parents, and others in the community. Opposition to the plan includes some business groups and drug companies. One opposing argument from a representative is that increasing licensing fees for companies that create legitimately prescribed painkillers ultimately will not help patients or their families. The new plan will now go to the state Senate and the Minnesota House for approval. Both houses of state Legislature should receive the bill by the first week of February 2019.