Those Calling for Action to Combat Opioid Addiction Feeling Let Down by Legislature

After a standalone bill failed to make it this session, anger and sadness for families

Sloane Martin
May 22, 2018 - 2:07 pm
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Days after a standalone opioid bill did not make it to the governor’s desk, families who have lost loved ones to opioid-related overdoses are expressing their anger and disappointment.

The first day of the legislative session that wrapped up Sunday was Opioid Day at the capitol — families with tragic ties used their heartbreaking stories of loss in the hopes of getting a bill across the finish line.

According to The Minnesota Department of Health, 395 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016, up  18 percent over the year before. Of those deaths, 194 were linked to prescription opioids.

After the emotional, months-long effort to get something passed, a bill to collect fees from pharmaceutical companies — adding up to roughly $20 million a year that would be used to fund naloxone grants and support organizations that treat addiction — failed in the House final hours, after it overwhelmingly passed the Senate in May.  

Dr. Chris Johnson, the chair of the state Department of Human Services Opioid Prescribing Work Group, did not hold back at lawmakers.

“The actions of the House Republicans here, and (House Speaker) Kurt Daudt in particular, reveal that they are on the side of the pharmaceutical industry, whose only goal is to maximize revenue and if that means the health and lives of Minnesotans are forfeit, as long as they aren’t accountable – and so far they haven’t been, no one’s held them accountable,” Johnson said. “I am angry about that. I want to make sure everyone understands that this was a hostile act you saw. This was a hostile act in the legislature. People tend to think that if it’s not rioting and bricks through windows pitchforks and torches that that’s what hostility is. No, no, no, hostility is in a line of text in a bill. That costs lives.”

WCCO reached out to a representative for House Republicans for comment but have not heard back. We'll update if that changes. 

That proposal passed a deeply partisan Senate by a vote of 60 to six and advocates were optimistic it would pass the house and become law. The goal, they said, was to hold large pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid crisis, not taxpayers. Shelley Ellington, whose daughter died of an opioid overdose, was emotional as she spoke to reporters. 

"I would come back every week because I would get messages saying that somebody’s child had died. I feel like I let them down," Ellington said. "Like I didn’t try hard enough. But it was so hard. It was so hard walking down those hallways and seeing what we were up against. To all the families, I’m sorry. I’m ashamed of the process, and I hope one day we can make it right.”

Ellington, Johnson and other advocates like Sen. Chris Eaton, whose daughter Ariel died of an opioid overdose, say the $1 million plan included in the supplemental budget that was sent to Governor Dayton does not do enough long-term. The general fund money through the year 2021 includes $600,000 for programs and new scientists at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension‘s drug lab. An additional $400,000 would go to grants for various opioid addiction treatment and prevention programs.

Lexi Reed Holtum, the executive director of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, says this decision should have an impact at the polls.

“How can there be such a deep divide between the Republicans in the Senate who did the good work of actually taking a stand against special interests and the House?” she said. “That is a question that I hope constituents across our great state ask their representatives this summer.”