WILLMAR — Rep. Dave Baker on Tuesday invited the Kandiyohi County Commissioners to support proposed state legislation that would create a pool of funds to help address the opioid epidemic at the local level.
"We just have to stop the deaths. We have to stop our communities from paying the price," Baker said.
The state representative's meeting with the County Board came on the heels of a mortality analysis released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics, showing that U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 for the second year in a row, in large part because of fatal opioid overdoses.
Baker's proposed legislation would assess drug companies for every opioid prescription dosage that's issued in Minnesota. A $5 to $7 fee per prescription would generate an estimated $15 million to $20 million for a state fund, Baker said.
The money then would be allocated to communities to help with critical needs: covering the cost of addiction treatment, relieving taxpayers from some of the public health and human service costs of opioid misuse, and other needs most pressing at the local level.
It's the first time any state has contemplated legislation forcing drug manufacturers to bear some of the financial burden of the prescription opioids they produce and distribute.
"I think in Minnesota we're going to be a leader," Baker told the Kandiyohi County Board.
The opioid epidemic has been one of Baker's signature issues during his time in the Legislature. For him and and his wife, Mary, it's personal: Their son, Dan, died of a heroin overdose after becoming addicted to prescription pain medication.
Baker said he's optimistic the legislation, known as the Opioid Family Recovery Act, will make it through the 2018 Legislature. It has support from Gov. Mark Dayton, and the state's medical associations are starting to come on board, he said.
Baker expressed appreciation to the Kandiyohi County Commissioners for launching discussion last month on whether to join a growing number of Minnesota counties planning to file class-action lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
That discussion is still in the early stages.
One of the goals of creating a statewide fund from drug company fees is to provide some relief to counties whose resources are strained by the impact of the opioid epidemic, Baker said.
In his travels around the state, he has heard financial concerns from many counties, he said. "A lot of budgets in health and human services are being hurt."
The Kandiyohi County Commissioners told Baker they see the proposed legislation as a good start.
"Go for it," urged Commissioner Jim Butterfield, who said he has personally seen the human toll of opioid use.
"If you need anything, I'm here to help," he said.
It's also important to address other underlying societal issues that are fueling substance use, otherwise attempts to stem the opioid epidemic will have only limited success, said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.
But he agreed that "doing nothing is not an option. We have to do something."
"Action is what we need," Baker said. "I'm just out of patience."