ST. PAUL - More Minnesotans are overdosing on opioids than ever before and the death toll from the drugs continues to climb.
In 2016, there were more than 2,000 opioid overdoses and 395 of them were fatal. That's a more than 1,000 percent increase in overdoses and a 600 percent increase in fatalities since 2000.
To combat the growing opioid epidemic, Minnesota has already committed nearly $25 million in state and federal resources. Local and state leaders are pushing for new oversight of dangerous prescription painkillers that often lead to opioid addiction. Lawmakers are also pushing for new funding and allocating more resources for prevention and treatment efforts.
Here are five key initiatives:
Taking drug makers to court
More than a dozen county attorneys and municipal leaders plan to file lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. These lawsuits allege drug manufacturers misled doctors and patients about the safety of using opioids to treat acute and chronic pain. They also claim distributors failed to investigate suspiciously large orders of these dangerous drugs that eventually made their way onto the black market. The lawsuits seek damages to help cover the costs of treating addiction and its impacts on Minnesota communities.
New rules and laws
State and federal lawmakers have proposed new laws to tighten the oversight of prescription and illegal drugs. There's bipartisan backing for a surcharge on opioid prescriptions that could raise up to $20 million a year to fund prevention and treatment efforts that's expected to be debated this legislative session. At the national level, Congress is considering requiring improved tracking of packages to keep illicit drugs like fentanyl from entering the U.S. through the mail. Congress has already approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that led to Congress budgeting $1 billion to combat drug abuse.
Reining in prescriptions
In December, state leaders detailed new guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids to patients after more than 3.5 million prescriptions for the drugs were written in 2016. The proposed rules seek to limit how long patients use the medications to just a few days at a time and drastically rein in the number of people who use opioids for chronic conditions. Doctors participating in state health programs that don't follow the guidelines could risk losing state payments.
More money, options for treatment
State leaders are using state and federal grants to expand successful treatment programs across the state. Specialists are looking to new medicines to help addicts cope with opioid cravings and to prevent overdoses. Counselors are working to better understand the underlying causes of addiction and the role relapses play in the recovery process.
Outreach key to prevention
Schools, law enforcement and community groups are working together to provide more information to parents and young people about the dangers of prescription opioids. Communities have sponsored take-back programs for unused medications. Police and court officials are exploring alternatives to arrest and incarceration for addicts.