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What Meeker County is doing to combat the opioid crisis
Litchfield Independent Review - 12/20/2017
Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series examining what Meeker County officials are doing to combat opioid addiction. This week, a local woman shares her battle with opioid addiction, and we share facts on the public health crisis. Subsequent stories in this series will examine local and legislative action to combat the crisis, and impacts on opioid abusers' families.
For millions of Americans, what may have started as chronic pain or post-surgical recovery has lead to drug dependency.
Thousands of people have died - 637 Minnesotans last year - from drug overdoses. Contributing significantly to the rising number of fatal overdoses is the abuse of opiates, a class of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers.
Nationally, the opioid crisis has reached epidemic proportions.
"This crisis is not just in our state; it's all over our country" said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. "Drug manufacturers and distributors spent years misleading the public about the addictive nature of their prescription drugs, contributing to the epidemic that has been officially deemed a public health emergency."
Oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and other pain-relievers are accessible by "legal" prescriptions. Regular use, even as prescribed, is responsible for overdose incidents and deaths across the United States.
Klobuchar is urging that pharmaceutical companies be held accountable for their role in this crisis ? and help pay for drug treatment for the people they got addicted.
Illicit drug use is a problem here, with the Litchfield Police Department and Meeker County Sheriff's Department conducting dozens of drug-related arrests each year.
Opioiates, in both illicit and prescribed forms, pose a similar threat.
"It affects families; it affects crime rates; it affects health care ... mental health. We're definitely concerned about it, and we see it on a daily basis," said Becky Howell, a patrol sergeant with the Meeker County Sheriff's Office.
So what can Meeker County do?
Local officials met with two representatives from Klobuchar's office recently to discuss solutions. Speakers included Litchfield Mayor Keith Johnson; local law enforcement; Meeker County Public Health nurse Ann Jensen; Meeker Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Ross; Veda Stockland, nurse manager for the emergency department at Meeker Memorial Hospital; and Montevideo resident Shelly Elkington, an advocate who lost her 26-year-old daughter to opioid addiction in 2015.
Also speaking was Shannon, a Meeker County resident who is a recovering opioid addict. Shannon has been clean for three years after suffering serious mental and physical health complications from addiction to prescription painkillers.
Here are some takeaways from Shannon's speech and statistics on the growing problem.