One of the biggest challenges often cited by local officials in their efforts to combat opioid addiction is lack of immediate access to treatment.
Even when a person struggling with addiction has contact with police or medical professionals and expresses a desire to enter treatment, they say it can often take up to a month for a bed to open.
"This is really unacceptable when it comes to the opioid crisis because of the nature of the drug, which is often fatal," said Gary Olson, CEO of Duluth's Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment. "All addictions are harmful and all addictions can lead to early death, but particularly so with opioids."
A $675,000 grant announced Wednesday will help change that. In the next few weeks, CADT will add six beds to its Duluth Detoxification Center for immediate treatment of opioid withdrawal.
The grant, awarded to St. Louis County from the state, will also provide funding for education and expanded access to naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose - with a particular emphasis on rural communities.
Olson said the new detox unit will fill the short-term gap in treatment. It will provide full assessments and stabilization for clients before giving them a referral to a longer-term treatment program. A typical stay will be three to five days.
"It will allow immediate access," Olson said at a news conference at the St. Louis County Courthouse. "It will be the portal, the entry point, for people that can be safely managed and get all the pieces in place so they can move on to the next step."
St. Louis County had the highest per capita rate of heroin and opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2015, according to state Department of Health statistics.
The state grant provides $350,000 for the withdrawal unit. St. Louis County is chipping in another $450,000 and the 6th Judicial District is adding $435,000 from a grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to get the unit going.
While that will provide funding for 21 months, Olson said anticipated changes to Minnesota's Medicaid system should provide funding to keep the service going beyond that period.
The grant also includes $225,000 for CADT to expand its office-based opioid treatment program, which involves physician monitoring and tapering medications to help patients overcome addiction.
It also includes a total of $134,000 for expanded naloxone treatment through the Rural AIDS Action Network and the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy.
That funding will cover outreach to pharmacies and provide outreach to families of St. Louis and Carlton County drug-court participants and at higher-education institutions. Officials hope to see a 50 percent increase in naloxone distribution, focusing particularly on rural communities such as Ely, Hibbing, Virginia, Cotton and Cloquet.
"We have a lot of resources here in Duluth, but less so in rural Minnesota," said Laura Palombi, an assistant professor at the pharmacy school. "We want to make sure that we're specifically reaching out to those communities and working with them to build coalitions."
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and St. Louis County Commissioner Patrick Boyle both spoke of the importance of partnerships between public and private organizations to combat the rise in opioid abuse.
Opioid Abuse Response Strategies, a coalition formed in 2013, includes representatives from community organizations, local government, higher education, health care systems, health plans, law enforcement and community members.
"We are confronting the opioid epidemic from many directions - working with hospitals, pharmacists, treatment programs and law enforcement," said Greg Anderson, the dependency unit supervisor for St. Louis County Health and Human Services. "It is because of the existing strategies and years of work that put us in a position to respond quickly and get this application together."
The funding is part of a $5.4 million sum awarded to the state of Minnesota through the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation passed by Congress and signed into law last December allocating $1 billion for opioid prevention and treatment.
The legislation was backed by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who last year hosted a panel with doctors, treatment providers, police and other community leaders in Duluth.
"I worked across the aisle with my colleagues to make this funding available because we need to support the good work that St. Louis County and their partners are doing and make sure that more families can access life-saving treatment and recovery services," she said in a statement Wednesday.