Prescription bottles

Rice County has received a $210,000 grant to help deal with the opioid crisis. The money’s being used to pay for medical professional to receive training to prescribe anti-opioid medication and to support addicts and their loved ones. (Daily News file photo)

With health officials struggling to get a handle on the opioid crisis, Rice County Family Services Collaborative is using a $210,000 Opioid Response grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to improve its services.

Across the state, 27 counties, tribes, health care providers and community agencies have received grant funding from DHS. Those grants will support a variety of innovative approaches to tackle the crisis.

The $11.2 million program is funded by a $17.7 million grant from the federal government. Even though Minnesota is considered to have one of the strongest public health systems in the nation, the state has struggled to contain the opioid crisis.

Although the state has one of the lower overdose death rates from prescription and synthetic opioids, opioid-related deaths have still increased by sevenfold over the last two decades. In 2017, 422 Minnesotans lost their lives to opioid overdose.

Rice County Social Services Director Mark Shaw said that the grants are designed to fund a wide variety of innovative approaches to tackling the crisis. The Family Services Collaborative is using the opportunity to set up some additional programs for those struggling with opioid addiction.

A joint effort between the Northfield and Faribault Public School districts, Rice County Community Corrections, Public Health and Social Services and Three Rivers Community Action, Family Services Collaborative is designed to help children and families.

In addition to working to address drug addiction, it works to reduce the rate of truancy and address the significant mental health crisis in local schools by providing resources and raising awareness.

The program is also being implemented in conjunction with the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative and Rice County Chemical & Mental Health Coalition. HCI and the Chemical & Mental Health Coalition work to support youth and families and help those struggling with addiction.

Ashley Anderson, staff liaison for the Chemical & Mental Health Coalition, has worked to coordinate the project. Anderson said that here in Rice County, the Opioid Response Grant focuses on two particular areas of need.

First, the program is committed to expanding access to suboxone, a prescription drug used to help people wean off their opiate addiction avoid the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. But to prescribe suboxone, a care provider must have undergone special training. In Rice County, as throughout Greater Minnesota, a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant qualified to prescribe suboxone can be hard to come by. Part of the grant will help to pay for Rice County-based care providers to undergo the needed training.

The grant also supports the new Opioid Mobile Support team, which is designed to provide comprehensive care for those struggling with opioid addiction. The team launched last month, has already helped to provide care for 16 individuals.

The support team is led by Jessica Bakken, a social worker and drug counselor at Fountain Centers in Faribault. A part of the Mayo Clinic Health System, Fountain Centers been helped individuals with drug and alcohol addictions for 45 years.

The support team also includes staff from Northfield Hospital + Clinics, Rice County Public Health, the Northfield Police Department, Northfield Community Action, the Rice County Sheriff’s Office, Three Rivers Community Action, HealthFinders Collaborative, Fernbrook Family Center, North Memorial Ambulance and Rice County Social Services.

The Chemical & Mental Health Coalition’s Anderson said that the care team is committed to providing help for everyone who needs it, whatever stage of addiction or recovery they may be at. With their wide-ranging backgrounds, Opioid Mobile Support team staff are able to provide a wide variety of resources.

“We can help them complete an assessment and inform them as to what services are available,” she said. “It’s important to meet people where they’re at, identify where their needs are with the ultimate goal of getting them ready for treatment and prepared for recovery.”

Bakken said people struggling with opioid addiction and their families have reached out to her in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes, that’s meant helping individuals and their families to work through emergency situations.

“One time, I was called into an emergency room because someone needed help,” she said. “(This individual’s) family members wanted to get (them) into treatment as soon as possible. They didn’t have insurance yet, but we were able to help.”

Shaw encouraged area residents to reach out to friends and family who may be struggling with addiction. He’s hopeful that if more people know about the program, more lives could be saved and transformed.

“If you’re struggling with opioid addiction, you don’t have to go it alone,” he said. “Trained professionals can help.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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