MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Prince’s death put a spotlight on a class of drugs that Minnesota lawmakers and law enforcement are still struggling with how to handle.
On Friday, the Governor’s Office announced a $5 million grant to help combat opioid addiction. Opioid overdoses killed more than 300 people in the state in 2015. Since 2000, deaths have increased 430 percent here.
A leading expert on drug trends says Prince’s passing may have brought the issue to the forefront, though there is plenty of work ahead to keep others from sharing the same fate.
The confirmation came in a tweet six weeks after Prince died: An accidental overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller took his life. Later, search warrants revealed a number of opioids were scattered around his Paisley Park home.
Carol Falkowski has been studying drug trends in the state for three decades.
“We learned from Prince that addicts go to great lengths to hide their addiction,” she said.
She’s never seen an increase like she plotted in her latest report, showing a more than 50 percent increase in opiate overdose deaths in just Hennepin County alone. From 97 to 153 lives lost, in one years’ time.
“This means whatever we’re doing to address this issue, we need to do more,” she said.
Falkowski believes proposed bills at the state capitol are a step in the right direction — Like a three-day limit on all opioid prescriptions, and a fee passed on to drug companies per pill to pay for addiction services. Still, compared to other states Falkowski says Minnesota has been slow to respond.
Cody Wiberg is the Executive Director of the Board of Pharmacy.
“I do think the state is trying to step up and address these opioid deaths,” he said.
Wiberg’s focus in the fight has been on improving the Prescription Monitoring Program, which requires pharmacies to input information daily to track all prescriptions, potentially identifying patients who might be shopping for a doctor.
“They will not tell each prescriber that they’ve seen other prescribers, and they will get multiple prescriptions for controlled substances, and then they’ll go and have them filled from multiple pharmacists,” Wiberg said.
The governor’s office says the grant announced Friday will increase access to treatment, and the governor’s budget plan also calls for an increase on these prescriptions to invest into opioid prevention and treatment.