Opioid prevention advocates rally at Minnesota Capitol with new urgency

Fentanyl is now the dominant driver of opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota, which hit a record in 2021, giving new urgency to advocates for treatment and prevention who rallied at the state Capitol on Monday.

The state recorded 924 opioid deaths last year, a 35 percent increase from 2020, according to data from the state Department of Health. Nine in 10 of those deaths were from fentanyl, a drug that's highly lethal in small doses and can be injected into pills in ways that's undetectable for drug users.

While the state is pouring millions of dollars into addiction prevention and treatment efforts, the Legislature failed to pass tougher criminal penalties for fentanyl because of a disagreement over whether possession -- not just dealing -- should be a crime. Additional funding for public safety efforts also failed when end-of-session negotiations stalled.

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"I was angry. Today was about love and hope and renewal. But I was angry," Michele Hein, whose son Tyler died in 2020 after ingesting fentanyl. "It seemed to me the legislators that voted no on those bills didn’t know and understand the crisis that we’re in."

The Legislature will not return until January unless there's a special session.

The state's funding source for its prevention and treatment efforts is about to shift. Money from the nationwide settlement against opioid distributors and one drugmaker is starting to flow into Minnesota this month.

The state stands to receive $300 million over the next 18 years. Three-fourths of that money will go to local governments, with the state keeping the last 25% for statewide efforts.