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Tribune Editorial: New opioid law is a good first step, More work ahead

Sen. Chris Eaton, left, and Rep. Dave Baker, right, spoke about losing their children to opioid addiction and a bill they passed Monday, May 20, that would increase resources for treatment and education. Forum News Service photo1 / 7
Minnesota State Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar talks to reporters Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, about how the state can deal with opioid abuse, with Attorney General Lori Swanson watching. Baker's son died of an opioid overdose. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 7
Shelly Elkington, of Montevideo, tells the story of her daughter Casey, who died of a drug overdose, during a hearing at the State Capitol in St. Paul on March 1, 2018 about a bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, right, that would create a surcharge on opioid prescriptions to fund treatment and prevention efforts. Baker lost his son to a drug overdose and said the opioid stewardship bill is his top priority this legislative session. (Christopher Magan / Pioneer Press)3 / 7
Minnesota state Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar listens to a witness talk about the state opioid abuse problem during a Monday, May 6, 2019, House-Senate conference committee hearing. 4 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune Mary and Dave Baker lost their 25-year-old son, Dan Baker, to an opioid addiction in 2011. Dan became addicted to opioids after he was prescribed vicodin to treat a herniated disc. Dave Baker, a member of the state House of Representatives, turned his pain into passion and plans to offer 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. 5 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune State Representative Dave Baker speaks during the Opioid Town Hall meeting Oct. 24, 2018, at WEAC in Willmar.6 / 7
Erica Dischino / Tribune State Representative Dave Baker, from far left, Robert Braness of the the CEE-VI Drug Task Force, Tami Jo Lieberg of Kandiyohi County Community Corrections, Marti Paulson of Project Turnabout Addiction Recovery Centers, Dr. Kathryn Duevel and Dr. Scott Abrams speak on a panel during the Opioid Town Hall meeting Oct. 18, 2018, at WEAC in Willmar. 7 / 7

The new opioid legislation is one step forward in the real public health crisis facing Minnesota and other states.

Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday signed into law the package that requires opioid distributors to pay a fee to be utilized to provide education and prevention programs as well as treatment.

As Walz noted, "The opioid epidemic is devastating communities across Minnesota—claiming lives and leaving a heartbroken family in its wake."

No one deserves credit on this legislation more than Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center. Both lost a family member after the child became addicted to opioids.

They have continued to work for several years across party lines focusing on the betterment and safety of Minnesotans through reforms boosting access to treatment resources for those impacted by opioids.

"This legislation was always about doing what was right for the ... families across this state that have lost a loved one to addiction," Baker said in a statement earlier this week.

"For my family, this journey started when my wife Mary and I lost our beautiful son Dan."

The $20 million in funding is a good start toward addressing the opioid crisis and having drug companies contribute toward solutions.

There were a lot of parents, families and recovering addicts who have spent considerable time and energy in supporting this legislation.

Shelly Elkington of Montevideo testified at the Legislature about her 24-year-old daughter Casey who got hooked on painkillers while dealing with Crohn's disease. Casey died in August 2015, a day before an appointment with a pain specialist.

"And I know there are a lot of children looking, proud of their parents today" for continuing their work on the opioid issue, Eaton said on the Senate floor earlier this week.

The legislation is "about taking care of the needs of Minnesotans going forward and making sure we don't have any more lost loved ones," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center.

Opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2017 set a record at 422. Opioids nationwide accounted for the majority of the 65,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016. That is more than all the U.S. military deaths in the entire Vietnam War.

Under the legislative compromise reached in conference committee, this opioid legislation will sunset after the state recovers settlements from drugmakers totaling at least $250 million after a minimum of five years.

Kudos to Baker, Eaton, Rosen and the rest of the legislators for taking a good step for the state in addressing the opioid crisis.

The passage of this opioid legislation is decisive, but the work of addressing the opioid crisis is far from over.

Baker will serve as a 2019 Opioid Policy Fellow with the National Conference of State Legislators. The program will focus on legislative health policies to combat the opioid epidemic across the country.

Others continue to work at the state, county and local levels around Minnesota. Thank you to all involved.