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On front lines of opioid abuse, Minn. Judicial Council signs off on new tribal drug court

MAHNOMEN, Minn. — Within 48 hours this past December, White Earth Nation was hit with seven drug overdoses. In the months following, a joint drug court program has received approval from the Minnesota Judicial Council to combat what the tribal government calls an urgent public health crisis.

"There is no question that our region is on the front lines of our nation's battle against the abuse of opioids and other drugs," state Ninth Judicial District Judge Anne M. Rasmusson said in a press release Thursday, Feb. 22.

"Our whole community is seeing firsthand the devastation caused by drug abuse, and we believe this program can be an important part of our community-wide response to this epidemic," she said.

Rasmusson is chambered in Mahnomen County and presides over the newly established White Earth Tribal and Mahnomen County Healing to Wellness Drug Court alongside White Earth Nation Tribal Judge David DeGroat.

The drug court was launched as a pilot program in 2016 with funding from a one-time $25,000 grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Now that the program has undergone the Judicial Council approval process, the court is eligible for ongoing Minnesota Judicial Branch funding.

The joint effort between county and state courts and White Earth Nation is aimed at reducing drug abuse and having a meaningful impact on the lives of people struggling with addiction.

Between 2014 and 2017, there were 320 drug cases filed in Mahnomen County — one of the state's smallest counties with less than 2,000 households. Neighboring Norman County, with a population roughly 20 percent greater, saw just 48 drug cases during the same four-year span.

High-risk, high-need felony offenders convene weekly in the drug court to complete a treatment program to reduce recidivism. The ultimate goal of the drug court is addressing the underlying addiction that resulted in the offender's criminal offense and have them leave the program sober, law-abiding and with a stable living situation.

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