ST. PAUL-Educating the public about opioid drugs may be the best way to fight their dangers.
That is what Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson hopes. On Monday, Feb. 13, she announced that she has adapted a year-old Wisconsin opioid public awareness campaign to counteract the growing addiction problem to opioid pain killers.
Swanson said a website (doseofreality.mn.gov) is the centerpiece of the effort, with a brochure and public service announcement for television stations and movie theaters also available.
Opioids drugs, heroin-like pain-treatment medicines such as OxyContin and Percocet, are becoming the drugs of choice for more and more people. Many users become addicted.
"The problem is getting worse," Swanson said, and the new campaign known as Dose of Reality is aimed at preventing people from getting hooked.
Swanson and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel delivered a three-pronged message Monday:
• Use pain killers safely, trying to stop short of powerful opioids.
• Lock up opioids, especially to keep them out of the hands of teenagers.
• Dispose of the pills safely, such as turning them over to law enforcement agencies.
Information on those issues, as well as how schools and the community in general can help, is on the website.
Schimel said in the year his state has been involved with the education campaign the number of opioid drugs prescribed in Wisconsin has dropped 11 percent.
The Wisconsin official said part of his efforts has been aimed at doctors, urging them to better warn patients about the dangers of opioid prescriptions. After taking them for 45 days, he said, it is easy to be addicted.
Information provided by Dose of Reality shows 80 percent of heroin users previously abused prescription painkillers.
Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said several opioid-fighting proposals will be discussed in the Minnesota Legislature, including how to fund parts of the fight.
"This is an important point of entry into this terrible disease," he said about addiction.
Baker got involved in opioid legislation, in part because opioid addiction took his son's life in 2011.
Sen. Chris Eaton, D-Brooklyn Center, lost a daughter to addiction in 2007 and expects 10 or 11 bills dealing with opioids to be considered this year, including one mandating doctors to check a database of those who already have opioid prescriptions so users cannot get prescriptions from several doctors at once. Also up for consideration will be legislation to require that doctors receive education about the drugs and that pharmacies be required to take back unused opioids.
Swanson supports the drug monitoring program to help prevent "doctor shopping" by opioid users. She also wants to require plain-language warnings to be issued when the bills are sold to patients.
Another Swanson proposal is aimed at addiction treatment in rural Minnesota. Of the 122 doctors authorized to prescribe the opioid addiction treatment drug buprenorphine, two-thirds are in the Twin Cities, she said.
Schimel said one of the issues Dose of Reality is meant to rebut is a "myth" that opioid drugs are safe because they are prescribed by doctors. The opposite is true, he said, as evidenced by the fact that they only are available, legally, by prescription.
He suggested that people who are prescribed the drugs "ask questions, ask what this prescription is, ask if they have to take it or if there are other ways to manage the ... pain."
Added Baker: "What we have to do is to start talking to patients differently. ... I hate to see more families like ours suffer."
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's budget plan calls for tracking overdoses so public safety and health officials have more information when they respond to overdose cases.
Also Monday, Nebraska officials announced their own Dose of Reality program. And in Washington, President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to work together to reduce opioid trafficking across the border.
"Today's announcement that the U.S. and Canada will work together to crack down on opioid trafficking ... is a welcome step forward in our shared efforts to end this deadly epidemic," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.