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New law takes on opioid overdose epidemic

Minnesota will tap opioid industry for $20 million to help pay for addiction treatment and prevention efforts

ST PAUL, Minn. — As of Monday, companies that make, sell and distribute powerful opioid painkillers in Minnesota will foot part of the bill for addiction treatment and prevention efforts.

The Opioids Stewardship bill that became law July 1 will sharply increase business registration fees for manufacturers of opiate-containing drugs, to $250,000 per year, if they sell, deliver or distribute 2 million units or more in Minnesota.

Annual renewal fees are being raised to $55,000 per year for those who sell and distribute those drugs in the state. The goal of the new law is to raise $20 million annually to pay for treatment and prevention programs.

"They knowingly sold a product and marketed a product and profited off a product they knew was addictive, and would have essentially the repercussions we're seeing today," Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth told KARE.

Olson was one of the co-authors of the bill and was on hand at the Capitol Monday when Gov. Tim Walz hosted a ceremonial bill-signing.

"It's also time we take some of the burden off the taxpayers. We pay for all of the treatment, the ER visits, the Narcan, all of our life-saving law enforcement. That's all being paid for by the taxpayers now."

The legislation also sets a supply cap of 7 days for adults and 5 days for children but has an exception for people in chronic pain such as cancer patients in the end stages of life.

Alarming overdose trends

Minnesota's overdose rates have spiked in recent years, with hundreds of fatalities and thousands treated by first responders and emergency rooms, according to statistics collected by the Minnesota Dept. of Health.

"It’s nowhere near slowing down, and a lot of that does have to do with the fentanyl coming into the state and the carfentanyl, the synthetic opioids," Sen. Chris Eaton, one of the lead authors in the Senate, told KARE.

"Four out of the five people who use those drugs started with prescription pills. I don’t know that there’s any other product that could’ve killed this many people that would still be on the market."

The bill also sets up an advisory commission that will make recommendations on which treatment programs receive grant money.

"We're hoping people will be creative and try new and unexplored things, because, quite frankly, what we're doing now isn't working."

Part of the money will go to help pay for traditional Native American healing methods in tribal communities that have been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic.

"What we’re doing isn’t working for the Native community, or the Black community, and it’s certainly not working for white community," Sen. Eaton explained. 

"We’ve been treating it as alcohol, and that’s not what needs to happen -- opioids a different animal."

Eaton's own daughter Ariel died at the age of 23 in 2007 from a heroin overdose. She had no idea her daughter was using that narcotic to treat her depression.

It's the reason she worked with Lexi Reed Holtum of the Steve Rummler HOPE Network on Steve's Law, a bill that boosted the supply of the naloxone, a drug that can instantly counteract the effects of an overdose if administered in time.

Holtum, who lost her fiance Steve Rummler to an overdose, was among those standing next to Gov. Walz when he signed the bill Monday.

"I'm just blown away by the fact that we got it done!" Holtum said through tears.

Gov. Walz Monday thanked advocates and lawmakers for their work on the groundbreaking legislation. He gave a shout out to two Republicans who had worked on the bills for years -- Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Dave Baker, who lost a son to an opioid overdose.

Those fees on opioid makers will be reduced after 5 years, or after the state reaches a settlement of at least $250 million in one of the pending lawsuits against the opioid industry, whichever comes first.

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