Duluth panel: Substance abuse eats 15 percent of state budgetLaw officers, treatment providers and court officials told a panel gathered Friday at the Public Service Building in Duluth about problems with prescription drug abuse, heroin, methadone and alcohol.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Key state officials traveled to Duluth on Friday to seek input from people dealing with substance abuse on the front lines.
They got an earful.
Law officers, treatment providers and court officials told a panel gathered at the Public Service Building about problems with prescription drug abuse, heroin, methadone and alcohol.
“We have more and more methadone-addicted babies in our community,” said Phil Norgaard, human services director of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, citing one of the many concerns raised during the 90-minute meeting. “We have the highest per-capita death rate for methadone (in Carlton County).”
The occasion was the first of three regional meetings hosted by state officials to present the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who chaired the meeting, said Minnesota is the first state to come up with a statewide strategy to fight substance abuse.
The state has a compelling economic reason to take on substance abuse, Jesson said. She noted that the annual cost of alcohol abuse alone in Minnesota is $5 billion, and that 15 percent of the cost of state government is attributable to substance abuse.
Panelist Ann Busche, director of St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services, cited evidence that preventing a single child from being born with fetal alcohol syndrome produces a savings of $2 million over the lifetime of that child.
Given that, more needs to be spent on prevention and treatment methods that are effective, several panelists said.
Gary Olson, director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, said he knows how to pay for it.
“Get the manufacturers, the sellers and users of alcohol to pay for some of the cost,” Olson said. “It’s time to hold that industry accountable.”
The rise of prescription opiate and heroin addiction were consistent themes.
Jesson noted that 20 percent of people admitted for substance abuse treatment in the Duluth area are admitted for heroin. Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said his officers who deal with drug addicts report heroin users invariably started with prescription drugs.
Methadone is used both as a painkiller and in treatment for opiate addiction. But it’s also widely abused, Norgaard said. A News Tribune series in September chronicled widespread problems stemming from methadone treatment in Minnesota, including abuse of prescribed methadone with resulting deaths and dealers selling it on the streets.
Jesson’s department revoked the license of the Lake Superior Treatment Center, Northeastern Minnesota’s only methadone clinic for the treatment of drug addiction, on Sept. 21. The clinic appealed and remains open, with a hearing set for Dec. 6.
In an interview after the meeting, Jesson said she was “fundamentally troubled” by what she had learned about the Duluth clinic. The state needs to improve regulation of methadone clinics, she said, including changing payment methods so clinics don’t have an incentive to issue the drug without proper counseling.
“Methadone can be effective for some people,” Jesson said. “But we need closer supervision of methadone providers.”
Several people talked about the “cottage industry” that has developed with people selling painkillers they’ve been prescribed but didn’t use. Richard Colsen, director of the Fond du Lac’s Tagwii Recovery Center, said in an interview after the meeting that some prescription drugs are sold on the street for $10 per pill.
Steve Steblay, supervising deputy for Duluth with the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, said he was stunned at the amount of prescription drugs that were returned when the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District Office started a takeback program.
St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg suggested a national program to buy back unused prescription drugs, an idea that Jesson and others greeted enthusiastically.