Dayton Wants Opioid Funds, No Overall GOP Buy-in Yet

Gov. Mark Dayton wants to increase spending to battle an opioid epidemic, focusing on communities that have the biggest problems, such as American Indians.

The Democratic governor proposes spending $12 million in the year beginning next July 1. He wants to spend $20 million a year after that, funded by a penny fee on every opioid pill, a plan destined to run into problems in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Dayton’s plan would increase money available for treatment, help babies born with opioid addiction, attempt to decrease over prescribing opioid painkillers and buy more of a drug that can reverse opioid overdose problems.

Money for the first year of the Dayton opioid plan would come from general tax revenue, but after that he proposes the new fee.

“Those ongoing efforts should not be paid by Minnesota taxpayers, but rather by people who created this problem,” Dayton said Wednesday, Feb. 14, in announcing his proposal.

State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, did not say his GOP leaders can buy into the new fee, which many call a tax.

However, he added, Republican leaders are “in favor of doing something major on this issue.” Baker did not say what the “major” action might be during the legislative session that begins Tuesday, although he supports a funding plan similar to what the governor proposed.

Baker, whose son died of an opioid overdose, said he does not like taxes. “I’m a Republican, for crying out loud.”

The representative said he will let his colleagues know that “we are running short of the resources needed.”

The first year of the Dayton plan could be funded from a surplus that state officials are expected to announced in a couple of weeks. At a Tuesday event, sponsored by Forum News Service, four legislative leaders and Dayton predicted the state will enjoy a budget surplus.

Baker and state Sen. Chris Eaton, D-Brooklyn Center, who lost a daughter to opioids, said Minnesotans pay high prices for an opioid epidemic that has increased in recent years. State figures show opioid deaths rose 66 percent  from 2010 to 2016. An estimated 10,800 Minnesotans abuse opioids.

A little known opioid problem would receive funds under the Dayton plan, Deputy Human Services Commissioner Charles Johnson said. In 2016, more than 1,300 babies were born addicted to the powerful painkillers because their mothers were users. That number only counts those in state programs.

It is “one of the most concerning” opioid-related issues, Johnson said.

State grants have been used to get pregnant women drug abuse treatment, and part of the new money would “try to catch those moms early,” Johnson said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — on withdrawal from the drugs their mothers used — is more than seven times more likely to affect American Indian infants than whites.

Dayton said he is targeting his plan to hard-hit Minnesotans, such as Indians, both on reservations and urban communities.

He said $4 million a year would go to Indian opioid treatment, with another $1 million in grants to prevent addiction.

One effort to save lives is getting Narcan in the hands of more people, such as law enforcement officers. Narcan is credited with saving many lives by reversing the effects after a severe overdose.

Eaton put a priority on funding Narcan.

“It needs to be just as easy to get help as it is to get heroin or to get prescription pills,” the senator said.