A $1 million federal grant aims to tackle opioid and other substance abuse across the Upper Midwest, and a generous portion of that money will be making its way into Becker County.

The three-year grant starts in September and is from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The award was given to the Upper Midwest Rural Opioid Response Project, which encompasses a number of diverse groups and organizations from Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin — including the HOPE Project, an offshoot of Becker County Energize that addresses substance abuse as well as the issues of mental health and childhood trauma.

The grant targets rural areas across the Upper Midwest, with a particular focus on two "pilot" sites in Minnesota that have demonstrated the greatest need for substance abuse services. One of those pilot sites is a three-county area that includes Becker County, along with Clearwater and Mahnomen counties. The other pilot site is northern St. Louis County.

The grant is intended to help communities implement, enhance and sustain effective prevention, treatment and recovery services for opioid and other substance use disorders.

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Pat Conway, a research scientist at the Essentia Institute of Rural Health and the lead writer behind this grant, said the funding means more people who are struggling with substance abuse disorders will be able to get the help they need, which will have a positive affect on them, their loved ones, and through the ripple effect, the entire community.

“People’s lives will be better” because of this grant, Conway said.

Grant dollars will be used to integrate behavioral health services into primary care, as well as pay for relevant programming and workforce development. It will cover some costs of Naloxone, which is used to treat narcotic overdoses in emergencies, and will improve the availability of medication-assisted addiction treatment.

In addition, the grant will support the urban hubs of Duluth and Fargo, which have primary care clinics and community networks that provide specialty care and consultation for substance use disorders. It will also support the continued growth of "rural spokes" of care that offer similar resources. Detroit Lakes is one of those spokes.

This grant will keep community members and organizations working together to “build on strengths in the community, and identify and fill in gaps,” Conway said. “We’re going to work very hard over the next three years to implement (the grant’s goals). We’re going to work on creating a really robust system in the community, to make a difference.”

“It’s about collective impact,” said Karen Pifher, West Community Health Manager for Becker County Energize, which is supported by Essentia Health-St. Mary’s. “It’s not about what I’m doing or you’re doing, it’s about .... connecting resources — ‘How can we work together to increase the capacity to serve?’”

Substance abuse is a major concern in Detroit Lakes. According to information provided by Pifher, 945 people in the county were in treatment for chemical dependency in 2017, and there were 219 drug-related arrests. And in 2018, 23% of all obstetric meconium cord tissue tests were positive for chemical use.

The grant funding could help bring those numbers down. It aims to bring more medication-assisted treatment options and care coordination support staff to Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, so that people who visit Essentia wanting substance abuse treatment will be able to get faster referrals, and will have a designated person to help them navigate the system and stay on the right path throughout the process.

The grant will also allow the FATHER Project to expand into Becker County for one day a week. The FATHER Project has demonstrated success in helping fathers overcome barriers like addiction and criminal history to become better dads to their kids.

Other efforts of the HOPE Project committee will also be supported. The committee is working on several initiatives to address substance use disorder in Becker County, specifically opioid use. These initiatives include all the things already mentioned, as well as: an expanded local Kinship program to build better relationships between youth and adults; expanded recovery programming and resources to support sobriety; supportive transitions between agencies for youth experiencing trauma; improved prevention efforts such as comprehensive education on trauma, mental well-being and substance abuse; and improved judicial processes to address substance abuse and mental health, including jail diversion or drug court programs.

“We’re building momentum,” Pifher said. “We’re trying to get this stuff moving and off the ground, and now we’ve found some resources, which is fantastic.”