Minn. opioid law takes effect; Walz says implementation ‘critical'

Gov. Tim Walz said the implementation of Minnesota’s opioid fee law, which took effect Monday, is “critical” as the state attempts to escape the grip of an addiction crisis.

“Otherwise, it is a piece of paper until it starts to impact (people),” Walz said at a news conference in the state Capitol. “Our commitment as an administration is full implementation.”

The law slaps new fees on drug companies to generate $21 million for the prevention and treatment of addiction. While lawmakers have already earmarked much of the money, an advisory council will guide other spending.

Walz and lawmakers said they viewed the measure as a “first step.” They said they planned to seek future changes to fund addiction prevention, since much of the new law addresses treatment.

For example, lawmakers funneled a significant amount of money to Minnesota counties grappling with the high cost of out-of-home placement for children whose parents are addicted to opioids.

Monday, the Secretary of State’s office posted several positions on the 19-member opioid response advisory board that lawmakers created this spring to guide decision-making. Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey said the applications would be available online for three weeks. 

For years, people who had lost loved ones to addiction have fought for the fund. Drug companies have opposed it, warning that patients who need prescription painkillers will pay higher costs as a result of it.

“It is a Goliath industry,” said Shelly Elkington of Montevideo, whose daughter Casey died of an opioid addiction. “I was afraid. I’m not going to lie. My husband would be afraid, saying, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure this is what you should be doing?’ I said somebody has to do it.”

Under the new law, the fees will reach $305,000 a year on opioid manufacturers whose products are used in Minnesota.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, who also spoke at Monday’s news conference, said lawmakers felt “oppressive” pressure from drug companies’ lobbying efforts.

A bill passed in the last hours of the legislative session, 109-25 in the House and 60-3 in the Senate, but Hortman said that doesn’t explain the difficulty of the effort.

“This was not easy to pass. There are very powerful money interests that did everything they could to make sure that these families would not see this day,” she said.

The law is separate from multiple lawsuits Minnesota has joined against drug companies. The multi-state lawsuits seek billions of dollars from drug makers and distributors.