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Minnesota set to up its fight against opioid abuse with $2.5 million in federal funding

Minnesota is about to increase its campaign warning about the dangers of painkillers known as opioids.

State officials also plan to work with medical and pharmaceutical professionals about the risks of overprescribing the drugs.

The state announced Monday, Sept. 19, it is receiving $2.5 million from the federal government to fight heroin and prescribed pain killers such as morphine, codeine, methadone, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Fentanyl and buprenorphine.

Federal and state officials say dependence on those drugs is increasing.

"The cost to the people who become dependent on these powerful drugs—as well as the cost to their families, to the community and to the state—is staggering," state Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said. "This is a problem that needs to be tackled from many angles. Treatment is key, but so is prevention, so that more people can avoid the struggle of dependence in the first place."

The state announcement came at the same time the White House said it is stepping up the opioid fight, with rural areas among the prime targets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it is providing Minnesota's Red Lake Band of Chippewa a loan for construction of a new, 16-bed chemical dependency treatment center. The new center on the tribe's northwestern Minnesota reservation is designed to provide a safe, sanitary facility to treat men and women suffering from drug and alcohol use disorders, the USDA said.

At the beginning of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, federal officials also said the Obama administration will increase support for medical treatment via video and other long-distance programs. A White House news release said the support will allow more rural Americans to receive health care.

President Barack Obama also has asked Congress to provide $1.1 billion in new funding to ensure that everyone who wants treatment for opioid abuse may receive it.

"Every day that passes without congressional action to provide these additional resources is a missed opportunity to save lives," the White House release said.

In Minnesota, some of the federal money already approved will be used to help communities implement programs to help prevent opioid abuse.

The state Prescription Monitoring Program, also to get a funding increase, is a voluntary method some doctors use to track prescriptions. It was established so healthcare professionals know if a patient already taking an addictive medicine is shopping for doctors to give more prescriptions to get more drug than needed for pain control.

"It's an important tool in making sure that people abusing opioids aren't able to go from doctor to doctor to receive multiple prescriptions," Piper said.

Some of the federal funds will be used to raise community awareness of the problems, including establishing programs in schools.

The state Human Services and Health departments reported that over the past two decades, deaths from drug overdose rose steadily, and opioid pain reliever overdose deaths have nearly doubled in the last decade, from 111 in 2005 to 216 in 2015.

Between 2004 and 2009, Minnesota emergency department visits resulting from opioid use and misuse nearly doubled.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.