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Extension and the College of Pharmacy combat the opioid crisis

With drug overdoses skyrocketing, Extension and the College of Pharmacy partner in rural Minnesota to reduce harms

According to provisional data recently published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States during the 12-month period ending April 2021. That's a new record high, with overdose deaths nearly doubling over the past five years.

Opioids continue to be the driving cause of drug overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused nearly two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths in the same period.

For the past three years, University of Minnesota Extension has led work on community-based solutions to the opioid crisis in rural Minnesota.

In 2021, Extension and the College of Pharmacy distributed fentanyl testing strips (FTS) to both clinics and community-based organizations that focus on harm reduction and at local events like National Night Out. Together they created FTS kits containing two testing strips, a bottle of sterile water and an educational card on how to use the materials along with local resources. “Fentanyl test strips are an extremely valuable tool for us as we strive to eliminate overdose. There are many people who use non-opioid drugs (methamphetamine or cocaine, for example) who are not even aware that they are at risk of overdose due to fentanyl in the drug supply,” said Laura Palombi, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, Duluth. "Getting more fentanyl test strips into the community — and more education to go with it — will help increase awareness of the deadly nature of fentanyl and its wide presence in the drug supply."

Additionally, we purchased naloxone and distributed it at trainings. Community partners estimate about 500 kits were distributed across rural Minnesota since July. "Because so much of the drug supply is adulterated with unknown amounts of potent fentanyl/fentanyl-like synthetic opioids, people are at increased risk of overdose," said Keri Hager, associate professor at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, Duluth. "Making access to life-saving naloxone and confidence in administering it even more critical."

Because the opioid crisis has reached all of our communities, it is important to learn ways that we can prevent additional opioid overdoses. Our frequently asked questions resource and video series provide information that individuals and families can use as they unite with their local communities to reduce substance use and abuse. 

The Minnesota Department of Health has also released its Minnesota substance use and overdose county profiles to help communities understand their local needs and prioritize resources. In partnership with communities, Tribal nations, and local public health agencies, Extension and the College of Pharmacy are working across Minnesota to prevent opioid overdoses and promote community healing. After years of addressing harms from opioids, Palombo said, "It brings me a lot of satisfaction to see that our grants are able to provide life-saving, tangible items (such as naloxone and fentanyl test strips) to community members that need them the most."

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