Senator Chris Eaton: Failure to pass meaningful opioid reform is a travesty

Saint Paul, MN – Senator Chris Eaton held a press conference on May 23 to highlight the failure of Republican legislative leaders to pass meaningful opioid reforms and hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis in Minnesota. Steve Rummler Hope Network Executive Director Lexi Reed Holtum, Chair of the DHS Opioid Prescribing Workgroup Dr. Chris Johnson, and board member Shelley Ellington joined Sen. Eaton to voice their frustration.

“Taxpayers have already spent $504 billion nationwide on this industry-created opioid epidemic,” Sen. Eaton said. “That’s nearly 3 percent of the GDP. It’s time for the Pharmaceutical industry to step up and help pay for solutions to a problem they created.”

“I was hopeful early this session when bipartisan legislation was introduced to raise money from the pharma industry to combat the opioid overdose epidemic that claimed the lives of hundreds of Minnesotans last year,” Sen. Eaton said. “The legislation initially would have charged pharmaceutical companies a “penny-a-pill” for every opioid painkiller they sold, raising $20 million for opioid abuse treatment and prevention and assistance to county social services. The bill was weakened in the last few weeks and the per-pill fee was replaced by a registration fee on opiate manufacturers and wholesalers to gain more support from lawmakers. Even though this bill was not perfect, it did hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic.”

Despite intense pushback from industry lobbyists, the legislation was bipartisan and seemed to be garnering support. The Senate passed the bill 60-6. However, the industry ultimately succeeded in stopping the bill’s progress with the pharma industry lobbyists putting pressure on Republicans to defeat the legislation. According to Sen. Eaton, “Their goal? To kill our bipartisan plan to combat widespread opioid abuse that would have required opioid manufacturers to share in the cost of treatment and public safety. Instead of holding Big Pharma accountable for the opioid crisis they helped create, Republicans helped kill this life-saving bill.”

Proponents of the bill believe drug manufacturers need to pay their fair share for the harm their products have caused and alleviate some of the financial burden borne almost entirely by taxpayers to address the crisis. There have been lawsuits filed across the country contending that drug companies knew how addictive opioids were, but still pushed for them to be widely prescribed. Minnesota Department of Health data shows the state had 395 opioid deaths in 2016, an 18 percent increase over 2015. Of those 395 deaths, 194 were linked to prescription opioids.

The Governor will likely veto the supplemental budget bill, which included the weak opioid reforms. The legislation called for the creation of an Opiate Epidemic Response Account which would have received an annual $1 million appropriation from the general fund through fiscal year 2021. Of this, about $600,000 is designated for program evaluation activities and for new scientists at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s drug lab, leaving about $400,000 annually for grants to various opioid addiction treatment and prevention programs. “This is ridiculous; it not only lets the industry off the hook, it won’t save lives,” Sen. Eaton said. “Most of the funding in the supplemental budget bill is one-time and falls far short of the investments required to have a real impact on an epidemic that steals more lives every day.”

Senator Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton represents District 40, which includes the cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park in Hennepin County in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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