For the second time in five months, a large grant has been awarded to help prevent and treat opioid abuse in the Detroit Lakes area.

Essentia Health-St. Mary’s in Detroit Lakes, on behalf of the HOPE Project, has received a $635,000 federal grant to plan and implement new strategies and services that address the opioid issue, especially among people within the criminal justice system.

The HOPE Project is an offshoot of Becker County Energize that addresses substance abuse and mental well being. Becker County Energize is an Essentia Health-St. Mary’s-supported initiative to build a healthier community.

The new grant comes on top of a separate but similar federal grant awarded this past August to beneficiaries across the Upper Midwest, including the HOPE Project. A significant portion of that $1 million grant was allocated to the Detroit Lakes area as a “rural spoke” for substance abuse services.

The two grants are unrelated but have very similar goals in regards to opioid abuse.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Karen Pifher, West Community Health Manager for Becker County Energize and a HOPE Project spokesperson, said the new grant “complements the August one,” allowing regional project partners to further collaborate and build on the progress that’s already being made.

While the earlier grant targets the entire Upper Midwest, she said, the new one “is much more of a community focus, so it’s more about our regional capacity as a community to improve services.”

Regional partners in the grant include health care, law enforcement and public safety professionals, drug and alcohol treatment facilities, and government officials in Becker, Hubbard, Norman, Mahnomen and Polk Counties, as well as the White Earth Reservation.

This region was identified as an opioid target area by the grant-makers, Pifher said, due to its high risk factors for opioid abuse, which include a higher risk of poverty than average as well as a high risk of poor health outcomes overall. Native American populations are also known to be one of the highest at risk of opioid overdose.

But the region was also chosen for the award, Pifher said, because of the collaborations and efforts that are already underway here to address opioids, and the potential that exists to make great strides.

“(In the grant application) we really tried to focus on the strengths that we have here, on the working coalitions,” she said. “It was part of telling the story … Expanding on how we have successful collaborations and how we’re really going to unite those to really do great work.”

The local grant is one of about 20 that have been awarded across the country, and Essentia Health-St. Mary’s is, “the only recipient within the top 10 Midwest states,” Pifher said.

Awarded by the The Rural Responses Initiative, the grant is a two-year, one-time grant that runs from January 2020 to December 2021. The first component of the grant — a six-month planning phase — will begin later this month. After that will be an 18-month implementation phase. Of the total grant dollars, $100,000 goes toward planning and the remaining $535,000 toward implementation.

The Rural Responses Initiative is co-funded by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the State Justice Institute.

“A lot of their goal is to improve criminal justice systems and how we work with them,” Pifher said.

A team of several people from Becker and the other partner counties, as well as White Earth Reservation, make up a planning committee that will travel to Washington, D.C., for specialized training on the opioid issue. They’ll return to share what they’ve learned with their local communities and then help develop strategies that are likely to work for those communities.

Whatever those strategies end up being, exactly, Pifher said prevention will be a key theme. The team will most likely be working to improve access to mental health access and recovery programs, and will be working with the jail diversion program, drug court, case managers and more, she said — all “to keep people out of the criminal justice system and improve their likelihood of health.”

“It has a community prevention focus,” she said of the Rural Responses Initiative. “Before people get to the point where they’re using opioids or overdosing on opioids, there’s a whole story about how they got there. This grant is allowing the community to ... implement practices and policies that will influence people at all stages of their lives, from school to harm prevention to opioid prevention activities and criminal justice and public health.”

Another focus of the grant is collaboration, and Pifher said that’s a crucial element, as well.

“We’ll be uniting the work that we’re doing, that White Earth is doing, that Polk, Norman, Hubbard and Mahnomen counties are doing; we’ll learn what they’re doing...and work together,” she said. “Each of us have a lot of work going … To be able to unite and collaborate and create a vision of what it really looks like across the region, and help each other, I think is really exciting.”