Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday unveiled new state limits on opioid prescribing, along with grants in eight communities to educate doctors and other caregivers on how to manage patient pain with less reliance on addictive painkillers.
The guidelines encourage doctors to prescribe low doses of short-acting opioids for pain following injuries or surgeries, to monitor patients for addiction after these initial prescriptions run out, and to refrain from prescribing the drugs for the unproven treatment of long-term, chronic pain.
Dayton said these limits are needed to reduce the rising number of addictions and deaths related to prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The guidelines, developed over two years by a panel of state medical and law enforcement experts, were released along with new Minnesota Department of Health data showing the breadth of the opioid problem. Even as the number of people prescribed opioids declined from 2012 to 2015, the Health Department found the average length and amount of prescriptions increased.
Nearly a third of Minnesotans who received opioids in 2015 had multiple prescribers, suggesting they might have been "doctor shopping" for prescriptions to feed their addictions.
The state reported 395 deaths from opioid overdose in 2016, an 18 percent increase from 2015. While a growing share of those deaths are due to illicit opioids such as heroin and potent synthetics such as fentanyl, state officials said many addictions start with common painkillers.
"This epidemic should have never gotten the way it is," said Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, whose son died seven years ago from an opioid overdose.
The new state guidelines aren't requirements, but prescribers who are part of the state Medicaid program will be monitored. Those with excessive opioid prescribing rates could be removed from the state program.
Grants would encourage communities to mimic a successful strategy used by CHI St. Gabriel's Health in Little Falls, where doctors' prescribing habits are tracked and confronted, and patients receive more treatment options for addiction.
The "post-acute" time period is critical, because patients who continue to seek opioids in the first weeks after injury are at high risk, said Chuck Johnson, acting commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which operates the state's Medicaid programs.