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What does 'success' mean in the fight against opioid abuse?

When old solutions aren’t fixing new problems, the quest for solutions requires bold new approaches. 

But do they work? And how is success defined? 

Those are among the questions University of Minnesota Extension will take on in a new study to evaluate several years of efforts to reduce and prevent opioid abuse in rural northeast Minnesota, including Native American communities. In July, Extension was granted $500,000 by the Pew Charitable Trusts to evaluate three current opioid grants in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.

The Center for American Indian Health will evaluate the results so far of grants to Extension’s Center for Family Development as well as complementary endeavors in South Dakota. In Minnesota, Extension’s work has centered on building community-based responses to opioid abuse in northeast Minnesota, including the Bois Forte and Mille Lacs tribal communities.  

“Evaluation is how we keep our promise,” said Emily Becher, Extension applied research and evaluation specialist, who is the director of this effort, with technical assistance from the Wilder Foundation. “No one wants to fund programs that don’t accomplish what we set out to do. Evaluation makes sure we’re addressing the need and doing it well, not just checking boxes.” 

In 2018, Extension, along with the University’s College of Pharmacy, received the first of three large grants to collaborate with rural partners to strengthen community resources that prevent addiction and create healthy environments for those working toward recovery. 

The need couldn’t be more urgent. Minnesota has one of the highest rates of overdose death related to opioids in the country. As of 2016, American Indians were almost six times likelier to die of a drug overdose than whites. 

These federal grants allowed Extension to recruit and build its American Indian Resource and Resiliency Team (AIRRT) with members who have personal ties to Minnesota’s tribal communities. To date, more than 200 events have drawn more than 5,100 people in 33 communities. Gatherings have explored historical trauma, evidence-based mind-body wellness and more. 

“Our current opioid-focused programming, along with our new evaluation grant, speaks to Extension’s mission,” said Mary Jo Katras, who provides leadership to the opioid work and is program leader of family resilience in the Center for Family Development. 

Allison Sandve, Extension news media manager, ajsandve@umn.edu, 612-626-4077 (office) or 651-492-0811 (mobile).
Contact Extension Communications at extnews@umn.edu.

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