Monday, May 20, a state House/Senate conference committee arrived at a bipartisan agreement on compromise legislation aimed at stopping Minnesota's opioid crisis.
Funded through fees paid by drug makers and distributors, the bill invests in new and proven strategies to address opioid use disorders. It also delivers funding to counties for the significant public safety resources they are expanding.
The legislation addresses the opioid epidemic by investing significant dollars and resources from registration fees on pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors into both new and proven strategies to address opioid addiction.
Under the legislation agreed to in a House/Senate conference committee, registration fees on pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors would raise about $21 million annually for an opiate epidemic response account. A significant portion of the proceeds of the account would be invested by an advisory committee tasked with making grant recommendations to the Department of Health for funding prevention strategies to reduce the number of deaths and overdoses. The bill includes reporting requirements for the grants to help measure outcomes and identify best practices that could be adopted statewide.
Many of the remaining resources would be appropriated to Minnesota counties to reimburse them for significant child protection costs that are a result of families being impacted by the opioid crisis. For the first time in 2016, parental drug use surpassed neglect as the most common reason for new out-of-home placements. At 29%, this trend continued in 2017, almost doubling since 2013.
The bill includes funding for Hennepin Healthcare's "Project ECHO," grants for tribal nations and urban Indian communities, and additional staff for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's drug labs and trafficking enforcement efforts. It also includes reforms to drug prescribing practices, improves efforts to safely remove excess drug supplies, and increases supplies of lifesaving Naloxone for first responders.
The registration fees would sunset once the state recovers at least $250 million from settlements with pharmaceutical companies after a minimum of five years. The legislation dedicates any revenue from settlements to opioid response efforts, supplementing the registration fees.
Despite massive profits and evidence they are largely responsible for creating the crisis, to this point pharmaceutical companies have resisted any accountability measures to financially participate in solutions, a news release stated.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there were more than 2,000 visits to Minnesota emergency rooms for opioid-involved overdoses in 2017. In 2016, 395 Minnesotans lost their lives due to overdoses. Since 2010, the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths has steadily increased each year.
"Working together, the Legislature forged a bipartisan compromise that recognizes the severity of our state's opioid crisis and gives us the tools to attack this public health disaster," stated Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, the House majority whip and the bill's chief author, in the release. "For too long, families and communities have been waiting for the Legislature to take action. While overdue, this compromise puts us on the path to prevent more heartbreaking tragedies. It also brings Big Pharma to the table in a meaningful way so they are held accountable and contribute to the solution."
State Representative Dave Baker, R-Willmar, issued the following statement regarding the adoption of the conference committee report for H.F. 400.
"This legislation was always about doing what was right for the hundreds and thousands of families across this state that have lost a loved one to addiction," Baker wrote. "Thanks to the hard work and determination from advocates, survivors, and families, Minnesota has emerged as a national leader in the fight against opioid addiction. Today's vote shows that good, bipartisan work can still take place in St. Paul. I have never been more proud to be a legislator and of the work we accomplished together."