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Deeply engaged, Extension continues work on the opioid epidemic

June 28, 2019

We recently held six community forums across Aitkin and Itasca counties. Each one began with a community meal and then a panel of local speakers including recovery organizations, individuals in recovery, sheriff and police departments, probation, healthcare professionals, and wellness/treatment courts. At the end of the evening, we partnered with Rural AIDS Action Network (RAAN) and the College of Pharmacy (UMD) to provide training on how to administer Narcan/Naloxone (medication used to counter an opioid overdose) and gave out free Narcan kits. It was recently recommended by the surgeon general that everyone carries or has access to Narcan if they are in a situation where someone has overdosed on opioids.

At each forum, our public health, and health and human services partners, Erin Melz and Kelly Chandler, along with Laura Palombi, our partner from the College of Pharmacy, provided an overview of our work. In closing, Laura reminded us that the data on the opioid crisis she shares represent real people, someone’s loved one — daughters, brothers, partners, cousins, and friends. The first time I heard this it struck me. No one close to me was in recovery or struggled from addiction. But this is no longer true for me. My cousin recently overdosed on opioids and is lucky to be alive. On the morning she overdosed, she was found unresponsive. It took two doses of Narcan to revive her. Without Narcan, she would not be alive today! This made it all too real for me and made me realize even more the importance of our work.

We are in the eighth month of our opioid grant and I am so grateful to be part of such an amazing team! As a team we have grown and have been fortunate to add eight new members:

  • Robyn Tomaszewski, an Americorp Vista hosted by the College of Pharmacy;
  • Lucas Kosobuski who started with us as an undergraduate and now will be a pharmacy student in the fall;
  • Diane Ruonavaara, our community collaboration coordinator;
  • Danielle Carrigan, on our website team
  • Cole Hanson, graduate research assistant
  • Susan Beaulieu, Briana Michels, and Solomon Trimble as tribal community facilitators on our American Indian Resource and Resiliency team.

We recently completed six community forums in Itasca and Aitkin counties as part of our Rural Health and Safety Education grant. Extension Small Grant funding supported the cost of community meals at each community forum. Across six forums, the project team had 343 attendees and 150 completed evaluations. Those who attended the forums represented a range of local organizations with close to 40% identifying that the forum was located in the community where they live. Please see Community Forum Reports for more information.

We are now busy accepting applications for our first Changemaker Retreat on August 21-22, 2019 for Aitkin and Itasca counties at the Long Lake Conservation Center. Lori Rothstein from Extension Center for Community Vitality is leading our team in this work. Changemakers are passionate about supporting their community and want to help people recovering from substance use disorder (SUD). They want to increase understanding of opioid SUD and help build community support. As part of the two-day retreat, a group of 20 individuals will put their ideas into action. They will work to make changes in their community. Changemakers will receive support, tools and resources, have time and creative space to grow and make changes in their communities, and will leave with the opportunity for funding to put their ideas into action. We will host the second Changemaker Retreat in November 2019 for Pine and northern St. Louis counties along with Bois Forte and Mille Lacs Bands.

Our work on the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration grant is all about technical assistance and direct education. We have been providing trainings and workshops for a variety of audiences across Itasca, Aitkin, Pine and northern St. Louis counties along with Bois Forte and Mille Lacs Bands. We have done trainings with Public Health, Health and Human Services, school nurses and counselors, healthcare providers, police department, emergency medical services, and local coalitions — just to name a few!

The American Indian Resource and Resiliency Team (AIRRT) lead by Jennifer Garbow have been partnering with Bois Forte and Mille Lacs Bands to understand the needs of communities and developed trainings and resources to meet those needs. They have provided multiple trainings on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), Mending Broken Hearts, and Healing through History.

In addition, the team has hosted resource tables over the last few months at several Pow-wows. The team’s presence at Pow-wows provides an opportunity to engage with the communities at celebrations that are important for socializing and cultural grounding, and is a strategy proving effective to bringing awareness to our work.

On March 28 the AIRRT, in partnership with Bois Forte Health and Human Services, developed and presented a tribal resolution to the Reservation Business Council (RBC) which was unanimously approved. In addition, a tribal resolution was presented and approved to Mille Lacs RBC on June 6.

Laura Palombi has lead our team to meet the demands of other trainings and presentations that include Naloxone, Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment, and vaping. We are now scheduling trainings for late summer and early fall that focus on financial education and parenting for wellness/treatment courts, Mental Health First Aid, and Medically Assisted Treatments (MATs).

Kate Welshons has been taking lead on the continued development of our website, opioid.umn.edu. This site provides an overview of our work and updates on project activities. It will continue to evolve as a resource hub for local community members and organizations where they can easily access up-to-date online education, technical assistance tools, and on-demand information and training.

Our work in Extension is built upon relationships and partnerships. It is all about connecting to Minnesota individuals, families and communities and building those relationships each and every day. It is not easy work as it takes time, intention and forces us to stay nimble. But it is through these relationships that we stay connected, learn about new and innovative work, and about the people and communities of our state.

Cole Hanson, our graduate research assistant on our Applied Research and Evaluation Team, created a social network map of our work across all four counties. In my opinion this illustrates beautifully the power of partnership! The purpose of the social network mapping is to act both as an ongoing documentation of the relational aspect of both grants and as a tool for formative evaluation to identify if there are particular sectors or partners that we need to selectively reach out to more intentionally moving forward.

graph showing connections for networking around our opioid work

Overview of the SNA Map:

  • Connections in the following counties: Aitkin, Beltrami, Carlton, Cass, Clay, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pine, Polk, St. Louis, Todd, Wadena
  • Connections in the following Tribal communities: Mille Lacs Band, Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Red Lake, Leech Lake
  • Connections in the following States: Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana

Mary Jo Katras, program leader

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