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Opiates on the rise: Becker County Energize to hold forum on Sept. 18

(Cristian C/Creative Commons)

Drug overdose deaths among Minnesota residents increased 9.2 percent from 2015 to 2016, extending an alarming trend, according to information released by The Minnesota Department of Health on Sept. 7.

The release goes on to explain that, "Preliminary data collected from Minnesota death certificates show 637 people died from a drug overdose in 2016 compared to 583 deaths in 2015." Of those deaths, there were 376 opioid-involved deaths in 2016, up 12 percent from 2015.

In an attempt to educate the local community and to reduce the number of preventable deaths related to opioid usage, Becker County Energize (a local movement that is encouraging people in the community to come together to make a positive and healthy difference in community members' lives) has teamed up with a variety of area businesses and organizations to bring an open forum to the community.

The forum, "Understanding Opiates: An Educational Opportunity," will be held in the auditorium at M State--Detroit Lakes on Sept. 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"With the influx of opioid abuse locally and regionally, there was a lot of discussion about needing to look at opioid usage," said Karen Crabtree, Becker County Energize Coordinator and Manager of Social Services and Community Health at Essentia Health St. Mary's. "As the manager of social services at Essentia, I've seen that about 19 or 20 percent of births we've had over the last year are babies who have been exposed to drugs prenatally. When I started a few years ago, that number was at 5 or 6 percent, so there's been a dramatic increase and we want people to know what's happening."

Crabtree also explained that one of the Becker County Energize subcommittees is focused on mental health and wellness in the community, which often goes hand-in-hand with drug and alcohol use.

"You can't talk about mental health without talking about chemical dependency because, a lot of the time when someone is struggling with mental illness, they're using drugs or alcohol along with that," she said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the total number of opioid-related deaths in Becker County from 2000-2015 was eight, with another four in Mahnomen, 27 in Clay, 12 in Otter Tail, four in Wadena and six in Hubbard counties. The number of drug overdose deaths in Becker County over the same span of years, the department reported, was 28, with another 11 in Mahnomen, 87 in Clay, 36 in Otter Tail, 10 in Wadena and 21 in Hubbard counties.

"The prescription opioid and drug overdose epidemic has had a devastating impact on Minnesota families--and while we have made some real progress, this report by the Minnesota Department of Health shows that we still have a lot of work to do," Senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement following the release. "We need to make it harder for dangerous drugs to enter our country, and we need to make it easier for law enforcement officials to prosecute criminals who distribute them."

The Minnesota Department of Health adds that, "Minnesota has several initiatives underway to address opioid addiction, such as increasing access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (brand name Narcan). Other efforts include the Opioid Prescribing Work Group, which is writing opioid prescribing guidelines for Minnesota, and an upgrade of the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program to include alerts for prescribers about patients potentially misusing opioids."

In addition to discussing the overall epidemic, Crabtree said, the upcoming forum at M State will also provide community members with information from law enforcement, tips on identifying opioid addiction and resources for opioid users and family members.

"It's for anyone, really, and there will be a lot of really good information," she said. "We're trying to make it available to everybody so that, when people walk away, they have an understanding of opioids or an idea of how to help themselves or others."

Panelists will include staff from Becker County Energize subcommittees and from assisting organizations, including Essentia Health-St. Mary's, Sanford Health, Becker County Sheriff's Department, Becker County Chemical Dependency and Mental Health, Prairie St. John's, Lakes Counseling, Drake Counseling, Stellher Human Services, White Earth and Becker County Mobile Mental Health Crisis Team and The Father Project.

"We have a great variety of partners that are coming together," Crabtree said. "You'll hear from somebody who's going to share a story about overcoming drug addiction, you'll get to hear from a pharmacist about how opioids work and how they affect your brain, and you'll hear from law enforcement about what they're seeing and doing in the community and what you should be looking for. We're trying to make it a really holistic approach, so it's designed for anybody who wants to come."