Last month, Minnesotans received some encouraging news about our fight against the opioid epidemic; preliminary data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) showed a 23% decrease in opioid deaths in 2018 compared with 2017.
While this is encouraging, too many Minnesotans are still dying as a result of opioid addiction. The opioid crisis has gripped communities in every corner of the state, touching families of all income levels, and we still have a long way to go before we find a solution to this problem.
The Legislature has taken concrete steps over the past three years to address the root causes of the opioid crisis. Two years ago, the Republican-led Legislature passed major bipartisan changes to bolster the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), limit the number of pills prescribed and enhance public awareness of the addictive nature of opioids.
I opposed a new fee on opioid manufacturers passed last session because it will only make opioids more expensive for those who truly need them for responsible pain management and end-of-life care. Health care costs are high enough, and we won’t make health care more accessible by raising health care costs.
When you look at the data, it’s easy to identify where the next step in our fight against this crisis comes from: We must stop illicit drugs that are imported to local communities across Minnesota by foreign criminals. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are a growing problem that will require a different set of solutions to combat.
Fentanyl is an opioid pain management drug that is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin. Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids, 91% of which included the drug fentanyl, increased by 6% while all other drug overdoses declined according to a preliminary report from the state of Minnesota.
Federal, state and local law enforcement officials are doing what they can to combat this deadly drug, but reports of fentanyl are still rising. Border patrol seizures of fentanyl have risen dramatically over the last few years — more than tripling from 458 pounds in 2016 to 1,804 pounds in 2018. In January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized a shipment of 254 pounds of fentanyl, which was valued at more than $3.5 million — enough to kill more than 57 million people.
ICE has identified China as the main source of illicit fentanyl entering the U.S. These drugs are either shipped into the county directly from other nations or transported to Mexico and smuggled across our southern border, creating a security problem for law enforcement officials and border agents.
Unfortunately, lawmakers in Congress and here in Minnesota have balked at allocating the funds necessary to detect drugs at our border rather than providing ICE and our border patrol agents with the tools they need to keep us safe. We may not think of border security as an issue here in Minnesota, but the statistics on fentanyl deaths demand that we take an interest in stopping the flow of these dangerous drugs into communities across the state.
Our efforts to stop the overprescribing and abuse of opioids are working, but not nearly fast enough to combat the rise in fentanyl-related deaths. We must get a handle on the illicit side of this crisis if we want to fully address this issue. This will require support for our law enforcement agencies, and stronger security at our southern border and ports of entry.
It’s my hope that legislators and other public officials can step up and work to keep these drugs off our streets — if we can stop the flow of fentanyl, we can continue to reduce overdose deaths in Minnesota and make our communities safer in the process.
Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is minority leader of the Minnesota House.