Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The opioid crisis knows no geographic or demographic boundaries. Minnesotans in every part of the state and from every societal sector have been impacted by this often-lethal scourge.

In the metro area, St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health has begun a much-needed pilot project that offers residents a potentially life-saving drug that can at times stop an opioid overdose from claiming another victim. Specifically, residents can request a free kit of naloxone — more commonly known as Narcan — that includes two nasal doses of the drug, a breathing barrier, gloves, directions for its use, and a list of community resources to help fight opioid addiction.

"This public health crisis around opioids is impacting many people in our community, and unfortunately Ramsey County residents really continue to suffer tremendously," Sara Hollie, director of St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health, told an editorial writer. Opioid overdose deaths nearly quintupled from 34 in 2016 to 168 last year in Ramsey County, and between January and the end of September there were 142 opioid-involved overdose deaths in the county.

A Ramsey County news release said a limited number of naloxone kits will be available until supplies run out, and Hollie has asked that residents refrain from requesting them unless they live in or interact with communities where overdoses are more likely.

Hollie added that she wanted county residents "to know you have a county and a public health department that are really working to educate, bring awareness, and set up prevention efforts around how we can address this crisis."

Part of that educational process is recognizing that "if one puts aside their bias or stigma toward people with addiction and just look at the facts dispassionately, I think people will see there is an epidemic and we have the opportunity to save lives," Dr. Charles Reznikoff, an addiction specialist at Hennepin Healthcare, told an editorial writer. "There are many ways to save lives, but making naloxone universally available is clearly one way to do this."

Yet it shouldn't be viewed as a "sufficient response," said, but rather "a necessary part of the response."

And one that's clearly necessary. According to the American Medical Association, "reductions in opioid prescribing have not led to reductions in drug-related mortality" — a claim backed by data showing that despite a 49.4% national reduction in opioid prescriptions from 2012 to 2022, there were a record-high 109,360 overdose deaths in 2022. Naloxone, the AMA states, "is a harm reduction success," and the organization "urges support" for naloxone in schools and public settings and recommends updated naloxone access laws.

The opioid epidemic comes amid the legalization of recreational marijuana in Minnesota, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's executive order in July that directed the city's Police Department and other city agencies to deprioritize investigating or arresting people for using entheogenic plants like psilocybin mushrooms.

The legislative debate over marijuana, at least, is over, and there was no public process to the mayor's executive order. What isn't over is understanding whether legal marijuana and looser rules on entheogenic plants will impact the use of more dangerous drugs like opioids. That's something that public health leaders should unflinchingly track.

And public health leaders should also closely study Ramsey County's pilot project. If it's found to be efficacious, other counties, or maybe even the entire state, should make naloxone available for their residents, too. Because saving lives should a priority for every government entity — and for every citizen, too.