Dayton unveils new opioid grants, prescribing guidelines

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday announced $700,000 in grants for Minnesota hospitals and clinics to tackle opioid abuse and new guidelines for doctors prescribing the narcotic painkillers, the latest in a multi-pronged effort to tackle what public health officials in the state and across the U.S. have deemed a crisis.

Much of the focus this legislative session — and in years past — has been on pharmaceutical companies that produce the painkillers. But proposals to fund prevention and treatment efforts by levying a so-called penny-a-pill tax on the manufacturers have hit a standstill.

State data show opioid overdose deaths increased by more than 600 percent between 2000 and 2016. And despite a recent decrease in the total amount of prescriptions written in Minnesota, a new study found the average number of days per prescription has increased between 2012 and 2016.

That’s part of what the new prescribing guidelines aim to crack down on. They stipulate that health care professionals should avoid prescribing more than a three-day supply of opioids for patients suffering pain, and to limit initial prescriptions to less than seven days.

The guidelines also encourage doctors to carefully monitor patients for whom they have prescribed opioids.

“This crisis continues because it’s driven by overprescribing,” Department of Human Services Acting Director Chuck Johnson said.

The grants Dayton unveiled Thursday would go to eight clinics, hospitals and organizations scattered in rural Minnesota. A state analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows many rural counties receive more painkiller prescriptions per capita than those in the state’s urban core — including Wadena County in central Minnesota, where 145 opioid prescriptions were made in 2016 for every 100 residents.

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