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Federal grant gives Minnesota $18M to fight opioid crisis

ST. PAUL — Minnesota is getting nearly $18 million over the next two years to address the state's growing opioid crisis.

The two-year federal grant, announced Tuesday, Oct. 9, by the state Department of Human Services, will be used to support treatment, emergency overdose antidotes like naloxone, and the training and recruitment of more medical and mental health staff.

"This federal funding is critical in Minnesota's efforts to fight a growing opioid epidemic all across our state," Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said in a statement. "This funding will support the implementation and expansion of proven strategies to offer treatment, improved emergency services and workforce development."

This is the third federal grant Minnesota has received in a little over a year. When a $10.6 million targeted response grant and a $6 million award for medical-assisted treatment are added to the tally, Minnesota has received more than $34 million in federal resources to fight opioid addiction.

Last year, 50,000 Minnesotans got substance abuse treatment and 11,000 hospital admissions were related to opioids and heroin, state officials said. Opioids caused the deaths of 401 residents in 2017.

"The opioid epidemic has impacted individuals, families, businesses and communities across the state. The Minnesota Department of Health is pleased to support the investments in workforce development as part of this current funding strategy," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement.

Malcolm noted the employer toolkit the state recently launched to help businesses assist workers who are struggling with addiction. The state has a growing worker shortage that has harshly affected communities struggling with the opioid epidemic.

Besides getting federal money, state leaders are working on local policies to rein in the spread of opioid addiction. Drug prescribing practices have been tightened and the state has expanded use of its prescription monitoring program.

Attorney General Lori Swanson and county attorneys across the state are suing drug manufacturers for allegedly misleading doctors and patients about the safety of the powerful painkillers. The pharmaceutical industry has denied those allegations.

There is also bipartisan support for a "penny-a-pill" fee on opioid prescriptions to raise funding to pay for treatment and prevention efforts, but state lawmakers were unable to pass a bill through the Legislature this year. The measure was strongly opposed by drug makers and their political allies.