ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday unveiled a series of wide-ranging laws to fight an opioid epdemic they say has reached crisis levels.
The bills coincide with the first-ever “Opioid Awareness Day” at the State Capitol that brought out hundreds of Minnesotans who lost loved ones from opioid overdoses.
Drug experts say more people died in Minnesota last year from opioid overdoses than from car crashes. In Hennepin County alone, Sheriff Rich Stanek says he’s counted 144 deaths last year through October, more than the 97 total deaths in 2015– and the tally is not yet complete.
“This is my son Aaron,” Mara Hauer-Prieby, of Perham, Minnesota, said. Her son died as a result of endocarditis as a result of improper needle usage prior to going sober. “It’s hell. It’s just hell. And I think that most of us that have been through this just want someone else not to go through this same pain.”
The proposed bills make sweeping changes to state law, including:
- A mandatory database of patient drug history that prescribers must check before giving out medication.
- A 3-day limit on all opioid prescriptions.
- And a 1-cent per milligram opioid fee on drug companies for addiction services.
The driving force behind the effort are 2 state lawmakers who each lost a child from overdose.
“It drives what I do,” said State Senator Chris Eaton, (DFL) Brooklyn Center, who lost her 23 year old daughter. “Every day I miss my daughter. Every day I wake up without her.”
State Representative Dave Baker says he’s always thinking of his 25 year old son who died of an overdose as he fashions new laws aimed at pharmaceutical company reform.
“And if you want to sell morphine equivalents here in the state of Minnesota, we’re saying ‘Pay attention!’ Because we’re done with this now,” Baker said. “We want to do more things, so step up, or we will make you step up.”
As overdose numbers climb, lawmakers also heard from an emergency room doctor describing an opioid crisis spiraling out of control, who blamed aggressive drug companies and under-informed physicians.
“And I guess I would offer you my apologies,” said Dr. Chris Johnson from Hennepin County Medical Center. “This crisis was not an accident. This was engineered.”
The new laws would also require health care professionals like doctors and dentists to prescribe less medication to first-time users, and give patients a way to safely dispose of unused opioids so they are not sitting around the house for someone else to find.