Rural Program Aims To Combat Opioid Epidemic
CHI St. Gabriel’s Health in Little Falls hosted a forum today discussing the current opioid crisis and a task force in Morrison County combating the epidemic. Minnesota gubernatorial and legislative candidates were invited to attend the discussion.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially declared the current opioid epidemic a public health emergency. A task force in Morrison County is aiming to combat the crisis.
“Here in Little Falls we have a comprehensive care program that we started a few years ago where we first started by monitoring patients for the appropriateness of narcotics. So patients who didn’t really have a reason to be on narcotics, they were tapered. People who needed narcotics who were maybe on too much, they got that cut down to more safe doses,” explained Dr. Heather Bell of St. Gabriel’s Health. “We then turned it over into starting to treat patients with opioid use disorder.”
The program got started in 2015 by a grant through the Affordable Care Act when Morrison County saw that there were over 100,000 opioid pills given out each month in a county with only 33,000 residents.
The program partners with community members, such as the sheriff’s department and local pharmacists, to improve informative decision making, increase provider awareness, and change the culture of narcotic prescribing.
“We have been quite successful. We have caught over 500,000 opioids out of our community of 30,000. We have now over 68 active patients who are on treatment who are back to jobs, back to working, back to their families,” added Dr. Bell. “Just back living normal lives who are no longer addicted.”
St. Gabriel’s Health in Little Falls hosted a forum to bring local political candidates to the table and talk about how this program could be mirrored in other communities.
“We’re here today to have a really good discussion with these candidates on what funding is needed, funding down the road for other critical access hospitals and we can provide a replicable program in rural Minnesota that we want these candidates to learn about,” said Kathy Lange, Foundation Director at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health in Little Falls.
The task force hopes to spread to other areas and show other communities that fighting the problem of opioid abuse is attainable and possible.
“I would like to see this go statewide. I’d like to see this program become something that becomes an education program that can be used in any community so that any community can recreate the efforts they’re doing here and they have a place to fall back on when they need to answer their questions,” explained Minnesota State Rep. Ron Kresha.
“We’ve now started to touch communities in other states so I just hope that continues to grow and have people realize this is very doable,” added Dr. Bell.
For more information on the rural opioid program and task force visit www.christgabriels.com.