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Expanded treatment coming to Minnesotans facing opioid 'personal devil'

Former opiod users Abby Haley, center, and Jen Jensen, right, listen Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, as Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith announces grants for organizations across the state to help fight opioid addictions. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
"I fell in love" with opioids, Abby Haley tells reporters on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. Now, she said, she has been off drugs more than two years. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
"At my lowest point, I was broken and I had no hope for a better life,” Jen Jensen tells reporters Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. But, she added, after treatment for her opioid addiction she now lives a good life. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn.—Abby Haley "fell in love."

Jen Jensen encountered "my own personal devil."

The women were talking about their addiction to opioids, powerful painkillers that Minnesota and national officials say are taking taking over so many lives that the situation has become a crisis.

Many who have become enveloped in the crisis are like Haley and Jensen, who hit the depths. The two women received treatment and say they have been clean for two years.

"At my lowest point, I was broken and I had no hope for a better life," Jensen recalled Friday, Nov. 3, as she joined state officials in announcing $16.6 million in grants to organizations around the state that fight the opioid epidemic.

More than 30 agencies will split the money, with the intention of reaching 110,000 Minnesotans over the next three years.

The money comes from the federal government, and mostly goes to existing programs to either launch new efforts to expand existing ones.

"These grants are designed to build on what we are doing," state Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said.

The opioid crisis affects all parts of Minnesota, but some of the worst impacts are in rural counties where there are fewer resources, especially in Aitkin, Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties.

"This crisis is hurting people from all parts of our state in all walks of life," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said at Wayside Recovery Center, a St. Louis Park facility that serves women up to 40 women at a time, including Jensen and Haley.

Jensen's story is typical of drug abusers. She said she was "happy normal" as a child, but started heavy drinking when 12, and progressed from there.

She and friends took opioids, usually prescribed for chronic pain. "The pills we were taking we got from our parents, so we figured they must be safe."

Eventually, the pain killers were not strong enough. So she graduated to heroin. "I found myself breaking laws by stealing and lying to people."

She was jailed and went to several treatment programs that did not work for her.

Wayside helped, she said, because it treated her entire life, including mental health, and it taught life skills. Many drug abusers cannot even write out checks, she said.

Now 24, married and mother to a son, Jensen said life is good for her.

Haley, 30, said that at 18 "I fell in love" with oxycodone, a common opioid drug. She said she battled it for a decade, but decided to get help after her sister's wedding.

She recalled going to the wedding and saw everything her sister had accomplished. "I had accomplished nothing. ... I didn't remember any of it."

Haley went to a detoxification center, then to Wayside, which she said, "saved my life."

"Today I walk with my head up and I am proud of the woman I have become," she said,

Smith said 10 percent of Minnesotans have chemical drug abuse problems and just 10 percent of them get help.

There were 2,450 Minnesota opioid overdoses last year, with 376 deaths. More than 3.5 million opioid prescriptions were written in Minnesota last year.

Grants announced Friday will go to a variety of uses, including getting opioid antidote naloxone in more hands, expanding medication-assisted treatment, increasing aid for American Indian reservations, establishing a program to help unborn and newborn babies of mothers with opioid problems and adding opioid-specific care providers.

In Washington, a presidential opioid crisis commission recommended that President Donald Trump support two U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., bills. One would require more monitoring of drug prescriptions and the other would help reduce the use of the post office to deliver drugs.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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