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After some disappointment over Trump's opioid announcement, MN leaders expected to push for more money

President Donald Trump departs after signing a presidential memorandum to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Jabin Botsford / Washington Post1 / 2
Don Davis of Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — More than 400 Minnesotans died due to opioids last year, up from 344 a year earlier.

The epidemic, a word often used to describe the situation, seems especially tough in rural parts of the state that may be less equipped to handle it.

When President Donald Trump announced on Thursday, Oct. 26, that he had declared the opioid problem a nationwide "public health emergency," Minnesota leaders of both political parties hailed it as a victory.

"This has been a long time coming," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., minutes after leaving the White House's East Room, where Trump made the announcement. "I am glad they are continuing to focus on this issue."

Klobuchar and other Minnesota leaders centered their reaction on the positive, but it did not take much digging in post-announcement interviews to see there also was disappointment.

State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, whose son Dan died of an opioid overdose, admitted that "you sometimes have to take wins when you get them." He said he expects the state's congressional delegation, Democrats and Republicans alike, to push for what many opioid fighters say is most needed: money.

Money does not necessarily need to come from federal coffers. Gov. Mark Dayton, Klobuchar and Baker are among many who say big drug makers should provide some of the funding to fight the opioid situation. But it might be hard for Republicans in Washington or St. Paul to levy what looks to be a tax on the companies.

"People have to put their political differences aside," Klobuchar said, adding that more people die from drugs than traffic accidents and murders combined.

Opioid painkillers are addictive, and most abusers do not need them for pain.

Klobuchar said Minnesota medical device makers may be part of the solution since they are working on nonaddictive ways to control pain, with should reduce opioid protection.

This year, the governor and Legislature set aside deep political differences and agreed to provide a $1 million grant to build a successful opioid treatment program that others could clone. They also worked on several ways to limit opioid prescriptions and required a label that says "Caution: Opioid: Risk of overdose and addiction."

Dayton promises to revive his "penny a pill" effort to put a 1 cent fee on every opioid pill to generate $21 million a year for the opioid battle.

'Help stop pipeline protest'

Republican lawmakers from across northern Minnesota want Dayton and his Public Safety Department to help local law enforcement agencies deal with protests against building a Line 3 oil pipeline in their areas.

"Local law enforcement has the duty to maintain law and order in their communities," said the letter from seven Republicans. "They do not have the equipment or personnel to deal with the added burden of a large influx of protesters from outside the area."

Democrat Dayton dismissed the letter.

"The governor says any letter which reaches the press before him is just for show," spokesman Sam Fettig said.

There have been concerns that the Line 3 project, yet to be approved, could turn into a situation like happened in southern North Dakota, where protesters from around the country set up a large camp.

The lawmakers' letter, headed by Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, asked if there are plans in place to prevent a problem. It said planning is better than "playing catch up after the fact."

Trick or treat time

Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith again will open the governor's residence for trick or treaters Halloween night.

Kids may visit 1006 Summit Ave., St. Paul, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those who dare stop by will be treated with items such as full-size Pearson's candy bars, peanut M and Ms, Annie B's caramels and B.T. McElrath chocolates, not to mention apple ciders and apples.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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