Data shows spike in opioid-related deaths, lawmakers push for change

New numbers show opiate-related deaths continue to rise in Minnesota. The release comes as cities, counties and lawmakers propose fresh ways to try to curb the epidemic.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there were 422 opioid-related deaths in 2017.

State Representative Dave Baker was inspired to make a difference after losing his son to a fatal overdose in 2011.

“He was just a great man. We’re gonna miss so many future memories of what he could have brought to us,” Baker said. “This is a real disease that we have come to terms with, that no one wants to be an addict, no one wants to be sick from this stuff.”

The Baker’s story is a familiar one: Dan became addicted to pain killers after a sports injury and eventually found his fix with heroin. Despite his family’s efforts to get him help, Dan died at the age of 25. His father is now one of the main authors of legislation attempting to tackle Minnesota’s opioid epidemic.

Brought to the House floor Monday, the bill contains a comprehensive set of education, intervention and treatment strategies while creating an Opioid Stewardship Advisory Council. It also seeks to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable by forcing them to pay up through state registration fees.

The bill passed 94 to 34.

“This is important nation-leading, cutting edge stuff. We hope to be the first state to do this. $20 million to help families is an important thing,” Baker said. 

Overdose survivor Austin Castle easily could have been one of those statistics. Now, he’s grateful to be alive and looking to share his journey to sobriety to help others.

“It was one of the first times I have ever done heroin… I had friend there who called authorities or whatever and they helped me out,” he said.

The department reports that alcohol-related deaths and suicide rates have increased, as well.