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Opioids: Minnesota needs better tracking of drug information

That Minnesota has seen a 9 percent decline in prescription opioids between 2015 and 2016 (“Amid opioid crisis, Minnesota sees significant decline”) is both encouraging and scary. The scary part is that if a patient becomes dependent or addicted to their pain medication and their prescription stops, they may try to find their pills elsewhere, such as by raiding a friend or family member’s medicine cabinet or even using heroin to treat their pain.

With the decline in prescription opioids, I fear our state will see a rise in heroin-related deaths. Proposals to prevent this from happening range from allowing medical cannabis prescriptions for all types of pain to requiring first responders to carry naloxone. But these are in reaction to the problem—they are not preventive.

To prevent a rise in prescription opioid and heroin addiction, we need to collect, analyze, and respond to data more quickly. A statewide database tracking overdoses, prescriptions, naloxone administration, drug arrests, and other vital information as it happens could help in allocating resources where they are needed most. If police and health officials can see where overdoses are occurring, they can conduct speedier investigations leading to better prevention and treatment. If paramedics can log how much naloxone they’ve given to an overdose patient, law enforcement may be able to discern the strength of the drugs and identify where they came from.

Real-time surveillance of the opioid crisis would make Minnesota a national leader and would greatly assist in preventing future cases of addiction and overdose death. Our legislators should continue to make progress by working with law enforcement and health agencies to allocate appropriate resources towards this effort.

Brian A. Smith is originally from Red Wing, Minnesota and is currently studying Health Policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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