Combatting opioid addiction
We are in the midst of an opioid crisis. In 2016, 395 Minnesotans died due to opioid overdoses. That number is nearly 20% higher than the previous year. Preliminary data released in May shows those numbers climbed even higher in 2017.
Opioids are another name for painkillers, like Oxycodone, that are typically prescribed to treat chronic pain. Opioids are similar in composition to illegal drugs, like heroin, and are highly addictive. Dependence and increased cravings are common.
For many of us, the impact of opioid addiction has hit close to home. State Representative Dave Baker lost his son, Dan, to the disease. He was prescribed opioids to treat a sports injury. It led to years of abuse and eventually heroin. Another colleague, State Senator Chris Eaton, lost her daughter, Ariel. She died of an overdose in a Burger King parking lot.
It is likely you, or someone close to you, has a similar story.
It is a disease that impacts communities in every corner of the state. It does not distinguish between income levels, races, or education. It does not care about political parties.
The legislature is not taking the issue lightly.
We made progress last session. We added millions in new funding to combat opioid addiction. That money will be used to expand successful community-based pilot programs, like the one in Morrison County. It will also allow community paramedics to conduct opioid abuse follow ups, and help with prevention.
We added prescription caps for acute pain, so health care professionals can proactively limit the sheer volume of opioids in circulation.
We required emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, and walk-in clinics like Minute Clinic to use the Prescription Monitoring Program. This is a tool used by professionals to manage patient care, but it also helps detect “diversion, abuse, and misuse” of prescriptions for controlled substances.
Those are just some of the ways we are combating addiction. But preventing addiction is just as important.
We gave schools more flexibility to include substance abuse and opioid abuse to their health curriculum. We provided grant funding to the “For Jake’s Sake” foundation, so they can partner with schools on opioid abuse prevention.
We instructed the Department of Human Services to work with colleges to develop student grant programs for opioid awareness.
Finally, the legislature is doing its part as well.
We created an Opioid Response Account to direct grant appropriations. These grants will fund awareness, treatment, and research and prevention. Going forward, the Board of Pharmacy will submit an annual report to the legislature about opioid trends. We have been playing catch up, but now we will be able to get ahead of the curve and anticipate areas of concern.
The majority of the 64,000 overdose deaths nationally in 2016 were caused by opioids – that’s more than the number of American service members who died during the entire Vietnam War. We have a long way to go before this crisis is under control, and it will take a sustained effort of communities around the state. But if everyone keeps working together, I know we will be successful.
This column was originally published in the Owatonna People’s Press