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Tribune Opinion: Minnesota opioids bill is a brave and needed proposal

Minnesota state Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar says on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, that he supports adding a penny state charge onto every opioid pill, to fund drug abuse programs. But he could not say that he would get votes from fellow Republicans for what could be seen as a new tax. Don Davis / Forum News Service

Brave politicians Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, joined Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday in proposing a stewardship fee or tax on prescription opioids to raise funding to address the opioids epidemic. Sen Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, is also the bill sponsor in the Senate.

The courage of these politicians to propose a funding mechanism to focus on opioid epidemic prevention efforts is commendable. This is especially true for Baker, whose party historically avoids even the use of the T-word—the prospect of taxing anything for any reason.

How bad is the opioid crisis in Minnesota? In simple terms, let the numbers explain the scope of the epidemic and its growth.

The rate of Minnesota opioid fatalities has increased 66 percent between 2010 and 2016

In 2016, there were more than 3.5 million prescriptions written for opioids in Minnesota.

It is estimated that about 10,800 Minnesotans now are using opioids.

There were 2,074 nonfatal hospital-treated opioid overdose incidents in 2016 in Minnesota.

And in 2016, there were 395 overdose deaths due to opioids in Minnesota.

Nationwide, the numbers are even worse.

More than 34,500 individuals died nationwide in 2016 from prescribed opioid or synthetic opioid overdoses.

The opioid epidemic is real. It is also growing and getting worse.

Even President Donald Trump recently called the opioid epidemic "the worst drug crisis in American history."

This growing crisis is not just a rural-white problem in Appalachian regions or a Native American problem on U.S. reservations.

This epidemic is hitting in all areas of the state and there are no economic boundaries—rural or metro.

Just ask Rep. Baker or Sen. Eaton, who have both lost a child to opioid overdoses.

"I don't want to see other families go through what my family went through when we lost our son," Baker said.

How true.

This bipartisan proposal would charge prescription opioids a fee of one cent per pain pill plus a small modifier based upon each milligram of active ingredients in a pain pill. This fee, or tax as some would call it, would generate Minnesota about $14 million for the fiscal year beginning in July and about $20 million per year in following years.

Minnesota needs this additional funding to address the opioid epidemic on every front possible.

The revenue generated would be utilized to combat the opioid epidemic and improve prescription monitoring as well. Currently, 1 percent of the prescribers account for 21 percent of controlled substance prescriptions.

This bipartisan proposal will face challenges.

The leading pharmaceutical trade association, the PhRMA, is already campaigning against this bill. Nick McGee, public affairs director for the organization, told the StarTribune Thursday that this bill's tax would have "negative consequences" on "patients and innovation."

It likely might have a small impact on the pharmaceutical industry's huge profits. But the industry was profitable enough last year to spend more than $277 million on lobbying efforts alone nationwide, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

How does that compare to the 395 families who lost a loved one in the past year? Or the hundreds of families impacted by opioid overdoses over the past decade?

Kudos to Gov. Dayton, Rep. Baker and Sen. Eaton for stepping outside of their political box and demonstrating some leadership in trying to get something done to start dealing with the opioid epidemic. They are showing the courage to address and fight for an opioid abuse remedy.

More importantly, they are trying to do something, regardless of the political risk, just to help save Minnesota families from the tragedy of opioid addiction and overdose death.

This is truly in the spirit of serving the people of Minnesota.

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