On Monday I attended a meeting with Aitkin area community leaders to discuss the rapidly growing epidemic of opioid prescription drug abuse. The gathering was organized by Ida Rukavina from Senator Klobuchar’s office to explore solutions.
Aitkin County Sheriff Scott Turner, Aitkin Police Chief Tim Catlin, Aitkin Mayor Gary Tibbitts, Aitkin County District Drug Court Judge David Hermerding, Kim Larson from Aitkin County Health and Human services and several representatives from the area medical and pharmacy community gathered at the Aitkin Library to review the problem and discuss solutions.
In 2016 about one Minnesotan a day died from an opioid-related overdose. Opioids have killed more than 2,700 Minnesotans in the last 15 years. More than 80% of these deaths involved prescription drugs, and nearly 60% have occurred in the past 5 years. Minnesota has experienced about a 6 fold increase over the past 15 years in deaths related to these powerful drugs.
Minnesota has several initiatives underway to address opioid addiction including, increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and more focus on treatment services. The Opioid Prescribing Work Group is writing opioid prescribing guidelines, and working on upgrading the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to include alerts that would help spot opioid misuse.
Minnesota will be receiving about $9 million in federal dollars to assist in combatting this growing drug abuse epidemic and improve access to mental health services. Most of that federal effort came via the Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a bipartisan bill that was signed into law in 2016.
However, as was recently disclosed by a joint Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation into another federal law that was quietly passed in 2016, we have a long way to go in this area. In 2016 the US Congress unwittingly passed a law that seriously hampers the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) efforts to stop suspicious shipments of opioids to unscrupulous storefront pharmacies and rogue doctors who prescribe these drugs.
I echo the concerns of a bi-partisan group of state legislators led by Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar (an Aitkin High School graduate), Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center in urging our federal elected officials to repeal that law. We have much work to do at both the state and national level on this matter.
Be safe this weekend as we finish those fall chores.