Rural Minnesota fights opioid epidemic with new program

- While the opioid crisis affects people from all walks of life, rural areas of the country often suffer with fewer treatment options available. But now, a new first-of-its-kind pilot program to help fight addiction is set to begin in eight Minnesota communities. 

Montevideo, Minn., is a small city of about 5,000 people, and it’s believed that about 100 are addicted to heroin--though it’s not known how many are addicted to prescription opioids. Thanks to a brand new effort just getting underway, however, that could soon change for the better.

It's an effort spearheaded by a local woman named Shelly Elington, whose daughter, Casey jo, passed away from addiction.

“Before you know it, she’s down that rabbit hole and we don’t know what to do," Shelley said. "I’m asking for help, and I’m asking local resources and physicians and the worst thing I could hear them say is, ‘I don’t know.'"

Since she lost her daughter, Shelly has been fighting for opioid addiction treatment that works--and that's where Dr. Heather Bell comes in.

She ultimately developed a pilot project that’s now funded for eight rural communities, empowering primary care doctors in those areas to prescribe Suboxone as well as creating a substance abuse care team in rural areas that would not otherwise have those resources.

“We have a care team in our clinic and we monitor every patient individually," Dr. Bell said. "Our nurse reviews their entire chart, we get a care plan signed, we get a urine drug screen. And then myself and Dr. Devine sit down and go through their entire chart and decide whether they’re appropriate or not appropriate for narcotics or the doses that they’re specifically on."

Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minnesota, is a big supporter of the treatment.

“Without giving the ability to get high, it actively treats them like an insulin would be for a diabetic,” Dr. Bell said.

“It’s not like we’re trying something new. It’s worked in Little Falls for three years, it’s worked nationally and it’s becoming more and more the go-to solution right now," Sen. Klobuchar said.

Another local woman, Monica Rudolph, says she has been sober for 13 months because of the program in Little Falls, and especially because of Suboxone.

“I can honestly say that if I was still using, I’d be either dead or in jail," Monica said. "Without recovery that would have been my only option."

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