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Substance abuse is focus of agencies

By Lucinda Jesson, Mona Dohman and Ed Ehlinger

Substance abuse and addiction inflict a devastating human and financial toll on Minnesota. At the Departments of Health, Public Safety and Human Services, we are confronted daily with the illness, crime and damage to families that too often follow drug and alcohol abuse, and the staggering public costs that result.

In fact, a Columbia University report estimates that nearly 16 percent of all state budgets are spent on substance-related issues. The cost of alcohol use alone in Minnesota is over $5 billion a year.

That is why in September the state released the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy, a coordinated effort focusing on evidence-based education, intervention and treatment. It is also why we were in Bemidji last week gathering local input on the strategy.

We’re inspired by stories like that of Ian, who, at 30 years old, and after 15 years of drug addiction, has been in recovery for the last five years. For Ian, it took medication-assisted treatment, service work, 12-step meetings and a network of supportive people to overcome years of heroin and pill addiction. He now has a job, house, family and something he thought he never could – sobriety.

This strategy is designed to save more lives and money by making prevention and treatment efforts more effective and efficient. By bringing together a wide array of stakeholders, from schools and health care organizations to law enforcement and the correctional system, we can more effectively address the needs of Minnesotans affected by drug use and the disease of addiction.

Though alcohol is Minnesota’s most abused drug, another significant and emerging trend identified in the strategy is the increase in prescription opiate and heroin abuse. From 2010 to 2011, heroin-related treatment admissions in Minnesota rose nearly 47 percent, while heroin-related arrests nearly doubled.

In northern Minnesota counties, other opiates, such as prescription painkillers, were identified as the primary substance of abuse by nearly 15 percent of residents entering treatment compared with 9 percent statewide.

The Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy calls for immediate action to address this area of concern. Recommendations include training for physicians in the basics of addiction, prescribing and alternative approaches to pain management, as well as more participation in the Prescription Monitoring Program.

In the long-term, the strategy calls for a balance of prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery support services, public safety and research to reduce all substance abuse and addiction.

It is estimated that every dollar spent on school-based prevention yields $18 in savings, and that 1.5 million fewer youths would begin abusing substances if effective prevention programs were implemented nationwide. While prevention is the best way to save lives and money, we must also create more opportunities for early identification and intervention.

Medical professionals, especially primary care and emergency room doctors, as well as school-based counselors must be able to identify the early signs of substance abuse and know how to intervene. Following treatment, we need to support ongoing recovery. Measuring the effectiveness of these interventions and treatments will be key to maximizing our efforts.

For those in the criminal justice system, we must interrupt the cycle of substance abuse, crime and incarceration. Ninety percent of offenders have a substance abuse disorder, and with effective criminal justice interventions and evidence-based treatment we can stop the revolving door.

In Northern Minnesota a number of tribes and counties are developing and implementing drug court programs. In Koochiching and Lake of the Woods counties, drug court graduates are about 10 times less likely to reoffend after two years than those on traditional probation across the nation.

Finally we must continue to target the supply of illegal drugs by reducing the trafficking, production and sale of prohibited substances in Minnesota. We also recognize the need to reduce binge drinking and underage drinking. We know that working together on prevention, treatment and recovery, we can make Minnesota a healthier, safer and stronger state.

For more information about the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy, visit the DHS website,

Lucinda Jesson is Minnesota’s Human Services Commissioner. Mona Dohman is Public Safety Commissioner. Ed Ehlinger is Health Commissioner.