Brett Larson Staff Writer
Hundreds of Pine County residents and Band members attended an opiates forum May 16 at Grand Casino Hinckley to hear a variety of perspectives on the epidemic ravaging communities across the nation.
Among the presenters were Health and Human Services Commissioner Samuel Moose, CD Counselor and Rule 25 Assessor Monica Haglund, and Tribal Police Investigator Michael Dieter.
Sam said Indian communities have been harder hit by the opiate crisis due to historical trauma and other factors. He shared that the epidemic has contributed to a threefold increase in Band children in foster care, and he talked about the Band’s opiate response plan, which was developed in 2015 and has been implemented over the last two years.
Among the Band’s efforts have been a new wraparound program, the takeover of Four Winds Treatment Center in Brainerd, which will open its doors in early June, and the implementation of a new pharmacy monitoring program and managed care protocols. Those changes have led to a 50 percent decrease in the use of narcotic pain medicines in Band clinics.
Sam said the Band has been pushing state legislators to adopt a statewide pharmacy monitoring program so addicts can be identified and helped. He also talked about a needle exchange program and training in the use of naloxone (brand name Narcan), which has been used to treat 20 overdoses so far on the reservation.
Monica pleaded for people to get help before addiction becomes a legal or medical issue. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had people come in and voluntarily get help, before they go to court, before they have a medical problem?” she asked.
She talked about the four keys to effective recovery: home, health, purpose and community. “Community provides us our social network,” she said. “We can offer each other peer support, belonging, love and hope. Let’s come together as a community.”
Michael talked about signs and symptoms of opiate abuse and warned that new drugs including Fentanyl are many times stronger than heroin and can be absorbed through the skin. He encouraged anyone who administers naloxone to stay with the victim and make sure he or she goes to an emergency room, since the opiates can stay in the system longer than naloxone.
He also said the violent withdrawal symptoms can lead people to take desperate measures to get a x. “They don’t want to get high, they just don’t want to be sick,” he said.
Other presenters included pharmacist Brent Thompson, Chief Deputy Paul Widenstrom, Dr. Ryan Harden, Dr. Erika Miles and County Attorney Reese Frederickson. A young man named Jordan shared his story of opiate addiction and the road to sobriety.
Brent Thompson shared some troubling data about the crisis, including the fact that the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 80 percent of the world’s oxycodone and 99 percent of the hydrocodone.
One audience member referred to that statistic during the question-and-answer period at the end of the event. Presenters agreed that the U.S. as a whole has a problem and that the power of the pharmaceutical industry also played a role as drug companies marketed opiates to patients as well as providers.
County Attorney Frederickson presented three ways to address the problem: Remove the stigma from people who become addicted to opiates, demand that insurance companies cover longer treatment periods and “demand that our elected of officials hold drug companies responsible for pushing these drugs and then walking away.”
The Mille Lacs Band hosted and cosponsored the event along with FirstLight Health System, Essentia Health, Gateway Clinic, the Pine County Sheriff’s Office, Hazelden Betty Ford, Pine County Public Health, Pine County Probation, Pine County Chemical Health Coalition and the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy.