Jessica Hultgren lost her husband to an opioid overdose in 2016 after he began taking prescribed painkillers to treat a head injury.
A program that monitored drug prescriptions might have helped save her husband, she said, since he was getting drugs from different doctors who weren’t communicating with one another.
Hultgren was among a group of Minnesotans who gathered with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sunday to talk about legislation Klobuchar recently introduced to try to curb the tragic and far-reaching effects of the opioid crisis.
At a news conference in Hopkins, Klobuchar summarized the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0, a bipartisan bill that builds on similar federal legislation passed two years ago. That legislation dedicated just over $180 million to tackle the epidemic, from training to treatment.
“It created a blueprint for the country in terms of training on naloxone and in terms of authorization for money,” Klobuchar said. “Now it’s time for us to reauthorize, which means kind of start again.”
The updated $1 billion bill adds several new elements, Klobuchar said. She highlighted provisions that would limit patients to a three-day supply of painkillers and require physicians and pharmacists to participate in prescription drug monitoring programs to track where and how often patients are receiving opioids. State databases also would have to share information with doctors across the country.
Medical professionals and victims’ relatives were among those who talked about their experiences with addiction and offered thoughts on the legislation.
“I had no idea this was the epidemic it was,” said Shelly Elkington, whose daughter Casey, 26, died of an overdose two years ago. “What I’ve found is that it hasn’t gotten any better.”
Elkington said she liked that the new bill emphasizes providing medically assisted treatment. She wondered how it could have helped her daughter.
“Patients should be able to go to their doctors and say ‘I’m in trouble,’ ” Elkington said.
Nathan Koranda, a Hennepin County Medical Center paramedic, showed Klobuchar how to administer Narcan via an injection and a nasal inhaler.
When his own brother overdosed 18 years ago, Koranda said, everything changed. Over his four years with HCMC, he’s responded to 70 overdose calls.
Administering Narcan is the easy part, he said.
“Where it becomes complicated is after we reverse the overdose and what conversation we’re having with people who have just woken up,” Koranda said.
Koranda said he received almost no training in mental health or substance abuse. It would make a big difference if paramedics were trained in how to talk with people who have just overdosed, Koranda said.
Dr. Bret Haake, a neurologist at Regions Hospital, supports sustainable funding for treating opioid addiction.
Haake said he struggled with understanding what three days’ worth of painkillers meant, since it could vary from patient to patient. At his hospital, some patients are limited to 10 pills.
In 2016, 637 people died from overdoses in Minnesota, more than were killed in homicides and car crashes, Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar noted that while Prince was probably the highest-profile opioid death in Minnesota, anybody could become an overdose victim.
Prince’s cousin Chazz Smith attended the event to hear about the proposed new law and called the legislation “amazing.”
“I had no idea anything like this was going on,” Smith said. “Long overdue.”