City to take on opioid problem


Drug education needs to be the priority of a Minot Blue Ribbon Commission to fight opioid abuse in the community, according to an advocate promoting the commission.

Supporters of a communitywide strategy to combat opioid problems asked the Minot City Council Monday to create a commission similar to a five-city commission in the Fargo area.

Education should be a key focus of a commission, said spokewoman Lisa Tankersley, who works with a transitional center for women in addiction recovery. Families need information to be able to identify when a member has a problem so they can intervene, she said. Medical personnel need to know the resources so even if they don’t have the available services, they can refer patients to other help, she said.

“It has to start with talking about the problem honestly,” Tankersley said. “I just think there’s so much more we can do, because the more informed you are, the more you are able to tackle a problem.”

John Vastag, coordinator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Addiction in the Fargo area, spoke at an opioid forum held by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, in Minot in March. He said that commission’s current focus is on developing an awareness campaign, creating a clearinghouse for information so families have a place to turn, providing medical detoxification and establishing transition housing and services.

Minot Mayor Chuck Barney said he has visited with Heitkamp’s staff and local advocates and is making plans to create a Blue Ribbon Commission. He said it will look different from the commission in Fargo but will be set up to work for Minot. He expected the commission to be created following the city’s June 13 council election.

Barney said the commission will need to include members of diverse backgrounds and include council representation to give it the weight that government can bring.

“We are working on it and we are taking it very seriously,” he said. “It’s a serious issue, and it needs to be addressed in our community.”

At last month’s opioid forum, various service providers and family members spoke about a shortage of services. Last summer, Community Medical Services opened North Dakota’s first methadone clinic for opioid treatment in Minot. From August to March, the clinic had served 90 clients.

Maj. Bob Barnard, acting Ward County sheriff, had reported the jail housed 1,372 people on drug-related charges in 2016. As of mid-March in 2017, the number was 824. He said family members plead to keep their loved ones in jail because that’s the only place that will detox them.

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Drug Task Force reported a 440 percent increase in heroin cases from 2014 to 2015.

According to Heitkamp’s office, heroin treatment cases skyrocketed from 17 people in July 2013 to 198 people in December 2015. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported 61 opioid overdose deaths in North Dakota in 2015, an increase of more than 200 percent from 2013.

Last year, drug overdose/abuse was the primary diagnosis of 228 patients presenting at Trinity’s emergency room. Of those, 67 had narcotics as part of that diagnosis.

Vastag told the community at the opioid forum that the fight against opioid abuse has to occur at the local level. The goal should be to become less reactive and more proactive with prevention, he said.


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