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Our View: Focus, funding needed to deal with meth, opioid abuse

March 11, 2017 GMT

“The rate at which drugs are being seized around the state should concern every Minnesotan.” -- Mona Dohman, Department of Public Safety commissioner

That comment on a report issued this week by the Department of Public Safety and its Violent Crimes Enforcement Teams makes clear the magnitude of the challenge all Minnesotans face in dealing with illegal drug use, especially methamphetamine and opioid prescription drugs.

The enforcement teams seized a record 488 pounds of meth last year, more than double the total that was seized last year and a 484 percent increase over 2009. Many people believe meth has faded as a major illegal drug threat, but they couldn’t be more wrong. According to the state Department of Human Services, the number of treatment admissions for meth-related addiction has surged in recent years. In 2016, 11,555 admissions were reported, nearly twice as many as during the previous peak year of 2005.

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Meth is now second only to alcohol as the reason people are admitted to treatment programs in Minnesota.

According to the report this week, prescription pill seizures, primarily opioids, increased by 231 percent compared with last year alone. Minnesota deaths by drug overdose have quadrupled since 2000, and in 2015, more than half the 550 overdose deaths were due to opioid pain relievers and other prescription drugs, with heroin a distant second.

Gov. Mark Dayton has made several recommendations to address the issue this year, including more funding for law enforcement as well as an ambitious, multi-year redesign of the state’s “continuum of care” for drug treatment, to streamline and accelerate the process of getting people the treatment they need.

Also this week, Dayton’s office released the final report on its 2016 Tribal-State Opioid Summit, held in October at the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Morton. The summit brought together leaders of the Tribal Nations in the state to develop strategies and solutions to address what was described as the “opioid crisis in Indian Country.” Among the policy and budget recommendations that came from the summit:

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-- State investment in prevention strategies, including strengthening cultural and drug education programs on reservations and among urban Indian communities.

-- More treatment options, including culture-based treatment programs, in tribal communities and statewide.

-- Changes in statutes affecting tribal law enforcement and sharing of information between tribal governments and the state.

Throughout the report on the summit, the importance of a broader cultural solution that involves all levels of law enforcement, social services, community organizations and families is made clear. Just hiring more cops and expanding treatment centers won’t do it.

Last fall, we supported an effort by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar to build support for a bill that would create a mandatory prescription monitoring program to help identify people who go from doctor to doctor in search of opioids such as Oxycontin. On Wednesday, Klobuchar co-sponsored a bill called “Jessie’s Law” that would ensure doctors have information on a patient’s previous opioid addiction, and later this month she’ll introduce a bill that requires the use of prescription drug monitoring programs.

Also this month, Klobuchar co-sponsored a bill called the LifeBOAT Act that would impose a fee on opioid prescription drug sales to provide revenue for expanding substance abuse programs.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger says, “To get to the root causes of drug addiction and overdoses, we must redouble our efforts and implement a comprehensive public health approach involving communities, health care providers and law enforcement.”

We agree, and redoubling anything isn’t cheap, nor does it happen overnight. This is the type of issue that requires focus, funding and full buy-in if we’re going to have an impact and save lives.