Group to determine how to spend $20 million to respond to crisis

St. PAUL — The 19 members of an Opioid Advisory Council were finalized Wednesday, Sept. 18, ahead of the group's first meeting next week to begin to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

The council will decide the best ways to spend an estimated $20 million a year raised from new licensing fees on drug makers and distributors. The fee and council were created by lawmakers during the legislative session that ended in May.

Eleven of the 19 voting members of the council were appointed by Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. The other eight members are appointed by state statute.

“Nearly 175 people applied for a seat on the council, so there was great public interest in finding measurable, effective and sustainable solutions to this problem,” Harpstead said in a statement announcing the appointments.

She noted the members were picked with a “geographic and gender diversity” focus. “We placed special emphasis on including members from communities especially hard-hit by the epidemic,” Harpstead said.

The council includes two state lawmakers who lost children to the opioid epidemic. State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, both championed what was initially described as an opioid impact fee first debated under then-Gov. Mark Dayton.

The lawmakers will be joined by representatives from hospital groups, health advocates, treatment programs, law enforcement and others. The council’s first meeting is Sept. 29, and is expected to make its first recommendation on how to spend money in the Opiate Epidemic Response Fund by March 2020.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan voiced support for new fees to address the state’s growing opioid crisis during the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

“The opioid scourge has claimed hundreds of lives, torn families apart, strained health care systems, exploded county budgets and ravaged our tribal communities,” Walz said in a statement. “This advisory council will help us understand the problem from a variety of perspectives and help us set priorities as we try to repair and recover from that damage.”

Last year, opioids played a role in the death of 322 Minnesotans, a significant decline from 2017 when 422 were killed by the drugs. Roughly four in five heroin addictions are believed to have been started by people misusing prescription drugs like Oxycontin.

Minnesota is among the states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers alleging they misled doctors and patients about the safety and addictiveness of prescription pain killers.

East metro members of the council include Minnesota Hospital Association representative Wendy Burt, Minnesota Society of Addiction Medicine representative Dr. Anne Pylkas, Republican Sen. Mark Koran of North Branch and Democratic Rep. Erin Koegel of Spring Lake Park. For a full list and more information on the group, go the Minnesota Department of Human Services website on opioids: mn.gov/dhs/opioids

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