Minnesota mother laments state legislature's failure to pass opioid bill

Fighting back tears inside the Minnesota Capitol building Tuesday, a local mother aired her frustrations with state House Republicans following the Legislature's failure to pass a measure intended to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for Minnesota's opioid epidemic by charging them a penny for every opioid pill sold.

“They failed me, they failed [my daughter] and they failed the families that are going to experience the horrific loss we are,” said Shelley Elkington, who lost her 26-year-old daughter, Casey Jo Schulte, to an opioid overdose. She was appearing at the Capitol alongside state Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Park, after the opioid bill overwhelmingly passed 60-6 in the state Senate but was stifled by lobbyists in the House.

“I drove in from Montevideo--two and a half hours away," Elkington said. "I left my family, my grieving family, my job to advocate for what was right, and it wasn’t enough because I don’t wear a suit and I’m not paid by lobbyists."

The bill's intention was to raise $20 million for opioid abuse treatment and prevention programs, adding much-needed money into the state's coffers as it struggles to contain a growing set of problems caused by opioids.

“They intentionally sent them out there to be sold, to make billions of dollars on them, to addict our family members, and knowing they could overdose and die," Sen. Eaton said. "As far as I’m concerned they killed them."

The substantial difference in the measure's reception between the state House and Senate baffled advocates and onlookers as the final hours of this year's legislative session ticked away Sunday, leading many to wonder about the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups in the body's decision-making process.

“How can there be such a deep divide between the Republicans in the Senate who did the good work of actually taking a stand against special interests, and the House?” asked Lexi Reed Holtum, the Executive Director of the Steve Rummler Hope Network.

House Republicans maintain they’ve spent $22 million on opioid addiction, prevention and recovery, but Dr. Chris Johnson Chair of the DHS Opioid Prescribing Workgroup insists the figure simply isn’t enough.

“They were perfectly happy to have the taxpayer, the constituent, the patients and their family pay for it rather than the industry who caused it in the first place," Johnson said. "So I’m angry and upset."

His anger and frustration is shared not only among the opioid bill’s proponents, but the hundreds of Minnesotans who cannot put a price on the loss they still suffer.

“To all the families, I’m sorry," Elkington said. "I’m ashamed of the process and I hope someday I can make it right."

In a statement to FOX 9 Speaker Kurt Daudt wrote, “400 Minnesotans lost their lives last year as a result of the opioid epidemic, we strongly encourage Governor Dayton to support Minnesota families and communities and sign the supplemental budget bill into law.”

Sen. Eaton says Dayton has been encouraged to veto the opioid portion of the budget bill specifically.