Minnesota officials are taking the first steps to implement a landmark law to fight the opioid epidemic, opening applications for a new state panel to dole out tens of millions of dollars for addiction prevention and recovery.
The law, which took effect Monday, is expected to raise $20 million a year to fight opioid addiction by sharply raising fees on the companies that make powerful prescription painkillers. Supporters say Minnesota is the first state to establish a separate state fund dedicated to the treatment of opioid addiction.
Gov. Tim Walz praised the sweeping new law as a “visionary piece of legislation” that was “many tragedies and heartbreaks in the making.” But the DFL governor cautioned that signing the measure was just the first step in combating the crisis.
“Implementation of this is going to be critical,” Walz said. “Otherwise, it is a piece of paper.”
Walz’s comments came as supporters gathered for an emotional bill signing at the State Capitol. Many had lost family members to overdose deaths. Advocate Lexi Reed Holtum spoke through tears as she noted that the bill’s enactment coincided with the eighth anniversary of her fiance’s death. She said more than a dozen states are now considering proposals modeled after the Minnesota law.
“I’m just blown away by the fact that we got it done,” said Reed Holtum, who founded the Steve Rummler Hope Network in her late fiance’s honor. “I’ve never been so proud in my life.”
For many backers Monday marked the culmination of a yearslong fight to get the proposal signed into law. Intense opposition from the pharmaceutical industry had derailed similar measures in recent legislative sessions. This year’s version passed both chambers with bipartisan support on the final day of the session, following an 11th hour deal to roll back the highest fees if the state wins a settlement in a lawsuit against the drug companies.
Republican Rep. Dave Baker, one of two legislators who lost a child to overdose, praised the law “as an important first step in addressing the opioid epidemic.”
“While today is a good day, our work does not stop here,” Baker said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to refine our approach to this crisis in the months and years to come.”
The legislation directs state funding to a number of specific programs and services in the coming year, including continuing education for providers who prescribe painkillers and a state grant program for overdose prevention. About $670,000 will go to law enforcement efforts, including drug lab equipment and special agent positions focused on drug trafficking. Programs aimed at non-narcotic pain management, including traditional healing services in American Indian communities, will receive millions of dollars in new funding. A significant portion of the revenue also will go to county and tribal agencies struggling to cover a growing need to support children whose parents are unable to care for them due to their own substance use disorders.
How to distribute the rest of the money, as well as future revenue, will be up to the 19-member Opiate Epidemic Response Advisory Council. The state Department of Human Services opened applications Monday for 11 seats on the board, including individuals representing people in recovery, the chronic pain community, treatment programs and the Dakota or Ojibwe tribes.
Walz said he hopes the board will attract applicants who can engage those affected by the issue and make sure grants are allocated in a way that follows the “letter and spirit” of the legislation.