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'You stole a generation from us': Minnesotans celebrate new law that puts drug companies on the hook for opioid crisis

Lexi Reed Holtum speaks at a press conference at the Minnesota Capitol on Monday, July 1, 2019, about the death of her fiancé Steve Rummler, which came eight years to the day before a state law took effect in Minnesota, requiring drug companies to pay to help address the impacts of the opioid crisis. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Eight years to the day after Lexi Reed Holtum's fiancé Steve Rummler died of a heroin overdose, Reed Holtum watched as Gov. Tim Walz signed a copy of a new law holding drug companies responsible for the fallout of the opioid crisis in Minnesota.

"I'm just really blown away at the fact that we got it done," she said, standing at a podium surrounded by others who'd lost loved ones to opioid addiction.

The law took effect Monday, July 1, and Walz ceremonially signed a copy of it, despite having signed the bill into law more than a month earlier. The opioid package passed within the final hours of the 2019 legislative session after lawmakers and advocates for more than a year worked to strike a compromise that could pass through Legislature and get signed into law by the governor.

"This was many years in the making, this was many tragedies and heartbreaks in the making and this is a visionary piece of legislation," Walz said. "As of today, this is the law of Minnesota."

Under the new law, opioid distributors will be required to pay fees expected to total more than $20 million. Those funds will be used to provide education and prevention programs as well as treatment programs. The law would also limit, in some cases, the number of opioid painkillers that could be prescribed for acute pain to a seven-day supply for adults and a five-day supply for minors.

And it would help fund traditional healing practices for Native American communities afflicted with opioid addiction.

The state has sued the drugmakers and if it receives a settlement, that could offset the fees, but not until $250 million has been generated and not before 2024. The plan would also boost funding to social service agencies that have borne the cost of out-of-home placement of children whose parents became addicted to opioids and would establish an advisory council to provide further guidance on the issue.

Advocates who'd pushed for the legislation shared the stories of family members they'd lost to opioid addiction and said they were glad to see pharmaceutical companies be required to help fund education and treatment efforts.

"That pharma greed stole my daughter from me. They stole the future. You stole a generation from us. They are responsible," Shelly Elkington, whose daughter died of an opioid overdose, said. "And the work we did here is the result of determination, perseverance, anger and passion. Without that, this couldn't have happened."

Lawmakers and advocates credited family members of those who'd lost loved ones to opioid addiction for getting the package over the finish line despite fierce opposition from pharmaceutical companies. And they vowed to pass additional legislation next year aimed at combatting opioid addiction.

The group also said members were in the process of helping 20 other states take up similar legislation.

Lawmakers at the ceremony said they were prepared to continue work on additional legislation. And Lourey said the department had put out its notice inviting interested individuals to apply to join the advisory council.