Jun 15, 2023 - Health

Inside Minnesota's $200 million push to combat the substance abuse crisis

Illustration of a first aid bag filled with cash.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The state of Minnesota is pumping $200 million over the next four years into fighting the substance abuse crisis.

The big picture: Supporters say the changes, which include a slate of new policies, are aimed at reducing overdose deaths and taking a more comprehensive public health approach to addressing substance use disorder and recovery.

Details: Laws passed in the recent legislative session will require overdose reversal medication for schools, jails, and law enforcement; dedicate $10 million to housing for people struggling with substance abuse; and allow the sale of fentanyl test strips at liquor stores.

  • The budget earmarks $26 million for "harm reduction" services, such as sterile needle exchange, access to health care, and personal hygiene facilities. Grants could eventually go to "safe injection" sites, which provide supervision during drug use to reduce overdose risks.
  • Peer-to-peer recovery and groups working within communities at greater risk of overdose, including Black and Native American populations, will also get more state cash.

Plus: Minnesota will become one of the first states to fully decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia — a move advocates say removes a barrier to seeking help.

  • Meanwhile, criminal penalties will increase for people selling fentanyl, the highly addictive drug responsible for a growing number of overdoses.

What they're saying: Jeremy Drucker, who leads the state's office of Addiction and Recovery, said the overarching goal is to reduce overdoses and create an "entryway as a pathway to recovery" by offering other needed services to people struggling with substance use.

  • "Not everyone is ready to enter treatment the first time, but if you can bring people into a system, you can start getting them care, you can build up relationships with trust," Drucker, who started earlier this year, said.

Of note: GOP Rep. Dave Baker, whose son died of an opioid overdose in 2011, said he's "very pleased" with the overall approach taken by lawmakers this session, though he remains "squishy" on the idea of eventual supervised drug use at harm reduction sites because he's worried they could enable users.

  • He said while some GOP lawmakers and law enforcement have expressed concerns to him about the paraphernalia change, he wants to focus on helping, not criminalizing, people experiencing "full-blown addiction."

What we're watching: Alicia House, executive director of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, told Axios that advocates hope to build on this year's progress next session by expanding and updating a "Good Samaritan" law meant to protect from drug-related charges those people who call for help during an overdose.

  • "We want to make sure that we never have a situation where people are still dying in the presence of others."

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