Minnesota legislators are reviving a proposal to raise millions of dollars to battle the opioid crisis by increasing fees on the companies that produce and distribute highly addictive prescription drugs.
The plan would infuse $20 million into a range of services, including addiction research, treatment and recovery programs and county-level social services for children who are neglected or abused by parents struggling with substance abuse. The increased funding would be paid for by a bump in annual fees on opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“This is an opportunity to save the lives and the futures of those who are still here,” state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said Thursday in a statement. “We have a moral obligation to help end this crisis.”
Legislators last year scrapped a proposal to charge opioid manufacturers a penny a pill to pay for treatment services after intense lobbying by pharmaceutical companies. A licensing fee measure also fell short.
Rosen said she feels the proposed increase will be much more acceptable to the industry and that she’s been meeting with the pharmaceutical companies.
“They keep saying they want to be a part of the solution, and I keep saying how does that look?” Rosen said. “I’m still open to how that looks, and we can adjust as we’re going.”
A spokesman for PhRMA, the trade group representing drug manufacturers, said it has not seen details of the proposal and could not comment.
The opioid epidemic has hit crisis levels nationwide as communities across the country grapple with the effects of addiction and record overdose rates.
Opioid-related deaths rose steadily in Minnesota over the past decade, with at least 401 recorded in 2017, according to the state Department of Health. Officials in some parts of the state are reporting a spike in suspected overdoses just weeks into the new year. Authorities in Duluth will hold a news conference on the matter Friday.
The effects of the epidemic are far-reaching. A deluge of foster care cases involving children of parents who are addicted to drugs is straining the state’s child welfare system, and the number of newborns exposed to illegal substances during pregnancy also has increased dramatically.
The American Indian community has been particularly hard-hit. That impact will be in the spotlight on Friday as House lawmakers hear testimony from tribal leaders at an informational hearing at the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s Grand Casino convention center.
Rosen said that while ending the crisis will require broad cultural and systemic shifts, policymakers need manufacturers and distributors to be a part of the solution.
The state’s licensing fees are $235 a year. The amount of the proposed increase is still under discussion, but Rosen said that Minnesota’s fees are lower than other states’. Wisconsin charges $5,000 a year, for instance.
In addition to the revenue stream, the Senate proposal would establish a prescription monitoring program to target overprescribing and require more reporting by pharmaceutical companies. A new Opiate Stewardship Advisory Council would spearhead statewide response efforts.
“Despite our many efforts, Minnesota’s opioid epidemic has continued to grow,” Democratic Sen. Chris Eaton, whose daughter died of a heroin overdose, said in a statement. “We must be more proactive in eliminating opioid abuse through prevention, education and creative treatment options.”
A similar proposal backed by Eaton and Rosen passed the state Senate last year but stalled in the House, which was then under Republican control, following intense lobbying from drug companies that opposed the measures.
A new Democratic majority in the House may give the measure a better shot this time around.
House Majority Whip Liz Olson, D-Duluth, is introducing her own version of the licensing fees and council proposal that has already been scheduled for a committee hearing.
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz expressed support for the general approach outlined in the earlier proposals during the 2018 campaign.