Opioid overdoses have become a public health emergency in Minnesota, and the Legislature must act urgently to put in place commonsense measures to prevent them and distribute those remedies widely.
Families of overdose victims rallied at the State Capitol this week, including Kim Gustavson, whose son Travis died in Mankato of an overdose of drugs laced with fentanyl. The families and advocates for preventing overdoses are asking the state to make naloxone, an overdose antidote, required in schools and among first responders.
Remarkably, it's not already required under state law. Schools "may" equip their buildings with naloxone and train people in its use, and Mankato schools did just that last week. But other areas schools should do the same. And first responders, if they don't already carry it, should.
The group also is lobbying for state laws that would make crimes for distributing fentanyl as serious as those for heroin. Right now state law sets penalties by weight of a drug, and so fentanyl, 50 times more potent than heroin, is not considered as serious a drug crime when measuring by weight.
The flow of fentanyl has been widespread and deadly. We agree with Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, that those who deal with fentanyl have to face much harsher penalties than is currently the case. Baker said law enforcement agencies don't have the authority they need.
There are a number of other issues that the Legislature should tackle. A bill to distribute clean needles along with fentanyl test strips is more controversial, but should be part of the debate. U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., attended the rally and noted there needs to be more border enforcement for fentanyl coming from Mexico, and social media companies whose platforms are used for drug deals should also be held accountable.
All of the above are serious issues to be debated because fentanyl, heroin and opioid abuse have become public health emergencies. Deadly overdoses don't hit any one demographic, but all demographics. Young, old, rich, poor and any race or gender.
Law enforcement, schools and the community in Mankato have made good efforts at educating on the dangers of fentanyl. The Mankato Free Press has committed to spreading the word to attack this community health crisis.
We urge state lawmakers to do all they can to put in place prevention steps that can be implemented now. There's no time to waste as the next fentanyl overdose is just around the corner.