Proposed legislation by Willmar's Rep. Baker could make drug companies pay to address addiction
WILLMAR — Dave Baker would like to see doctors change their vocabulary.
Many people don't know what an opioid is, he said, but they know what heroin is. Heroin is the illegal drug in the same class as painkillers like oxycodone, oxycontin, morphine and codeine.
Dave Baker, a Republican state legislator from Willmar, and his wife, Mary, lost their son Dan to an addiction that began with prescription painkillers for back pain and advanced to heroin. He died of an overdose nearly seven years ago at the age of 25.
"We are going to keep fighting, and we're going to make sure everybody knows the power of an opioid," he said.
Dave Baker is planning to introduce legislation that could make Minnesota the first in the nation to require drug companies to pay a surcharge of one cent on each opioid pill sold. The money raised would be used to help the state address the epidemic of opioid addiction.
"When you sell heroin in pills and you give them to pain patients, and you don't tell them the strength of this heroin, it causes problems, and this is where we're at today," Dave Baker said.
"It's not only the strength, but the addiction factor," added Mary Baker. "It's there, and they did their best to keep it from even the medical community."
Baker's legislation, which would raise $15 million to $20 million a year, could help the state pay for treatment centers and for an integrated prescription monitoring system to help doctors and pharmacists see if a patient has been doctor shopping to get more pills. It's a tool the medical community has sought.
The penny-a-pill surcharge could pay for naloxone for emergency responders to counteract overdoses and help counties pay addiction-related costs including child protection expenses, too.
"We want to make sure that someone will pay for this, and it will be the companies that delivered this to our country, the companies that lied to our medical community, the companies making billions of profit," Baker said.
"You folks who have made all this money on the backs of our children that aren't here anymore, you're going to step up," he added. "We can't just do what we're doing now; we need more resources because it's not getting fixed fast enough."
Drug companies offer flyers to be handed out with the drugs and have updated websites, but it's not enough, he said.
"We don't need another working group; we don't need another task force, we don't need more stats because we know what they are."
A number of lawsuits have been discussed and some have been filed around the country, he said, but they can take years to resolve.
"In the meantime, we can do this legislative stuff now," he said. "We don't have to wait for the courts and the appeals and the lawyers that get rich."
Baker said he hopes to be able to work on the legislation and get it passed this next session. It has bipartisan backing and the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, he said. Supporters include Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center. Eaton also lost a daughter to opioid addiction.
The Baker family has raised about $250,000 through the Dan Baker Foundation in recent years to help families and providers with addiction-related expenses. They have donated to treatment centers, sobriety houses, emergency responders and drug courts. "There's such a need out there," Mary Baker said.
Dan's experience with opioids started with a prescription for back pain when he was in college.
After they knew he had addiction issues, "I went with him to every single appointment," Mary Baker said. "I thought at that point that he could just abstain."
The family would ask doctors to prescribe fewer pills for him. "I didn't understand addiction, that my stopping him from getting prescription drugs made him do what drug addicts do, find it elsewhere," Mary Baker said.
Dan was aware of his addiction and understood it better than his parents did, she said.
"The drug is an obsession beyond obsession, what it does to your brain," she said. "You're no longer taking it for the high; you're taking it to feel normal."
The addiction can be beaten, they said, but it can take two years for the brain to adjust.
"That's why this addiction costs so much," Mary Baker said. "It can ruin your finances real quick."
The Bakers said they felt ashamed at the time and didn't want anyone else to know, a common reaction for families dealing with the problem.
"We need to talk about this because addiction is not something you need to live with in silence," Dave Baker said. "If you ask for help, it's OK."