Representatives Patrick Halbert and Sarah Franz from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s state office, health care providers, and leaders from Isanti County held a roundtable discussion of the opioid and meth crisis and effects of substance use on those struggling with addiction and their families at Cambridge City Hall Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Klobuchar was featured in a video presentation encouraging suggestions from Minnesota cities and counties around the state to reduce opioid distribution, fund treatment, and improve prescribing.
“Today, nearly half of all Americans know someone from their immediate family or one of their good friends who’s been addicted. Whether it is alcohol, whether it is meth, whether it is opioids or cocaine,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar spent eight years as the Hennepin County Attorney.
“One of my priorities was to find innovative solutions when it comes to caring for those struggling with substance abuse,” Klobuchar said. “We found that whether it was addiction to meth or opioids, people were in desperate need of treatment. We used drug courts to make sure that non-violent drug offenders had a chance to get off their addiction and go on to lead productive lives.”
Drug courts in big and small communities have been successful in Minnesota, according to Klobuchar, and she has pushed for more federal funding for drug courts.
“No matter where I go in our state from Alexandria to Hutchinson to Morris, I hear those stories about how substance abuse hurts our families,” Klobuchar said.
Isanti County Probation Director Tim MacMillan was part of the roundtable discussion and said what the probation office is seeing with the chemical dependency population, especially related to opioid addiction, is the lack of housing for clients who need drug treatment.
“Isanti County has limitations on what we can do with the current folks that we are working with. I think we do a good job of providing that care. The pieces that we’re lacking are the short term care and housing,” MacMillan said. “The other big piece is that people are still able to med shop for opioids, which is very concerning in this day and age on how far we’ve come with this conversation about doctors knowing what other doctors are prescribing. Or, really not knowing what other doctors are prescribing. We need to fix that.”
MacMillan said he’s in his 25th year in probation and it has been all about the relationship that you formulate with the person you are working with.
Dr. David Frenz, who specializes in addiction, attended the roundtable session.
“Every health care system has tens of thousands of patients on opioids. I’m not making this up. We call them legacy patients,” Frenz said. “It’s not realistic for them to come off. Getting people off opioids is hard and miserable work.”
Frenz also commented on how alcohol is still the biggest issue regarding addiction and alcohol will just kill you slower than meth or opioids.
“Nobody wants to talk about alcohol, but it’s still public enemy number one and, from a public safety stand point, the biggest issue,” Frenz said.
Cambridge City Administrator Lynda Woulfe said one the most important issues is the lack of sober housing when someone comes out of treatment.
“From a community perspective, everybody gets super scared that a sober house is going in their neighborhood. The city of Cambridge has approximately four thousand homes and about four hundred group homes,” Woulfe said. “Recently, we had a sober home wanting to go in on Fern Street and they wanted to put 16 people in a single family home with two bedrooms. That just wasn’t going to be safe. The city would permit them to have the sober home but they cannot fit 16 people in a two-bedroom home.”
Woulfe said the community is scared how sober homes will affect their property values and their neighborhoods.
“A lot of that is fear and is incorrect. We have to try and find that balance between making sure the neighborhoods stay well maintained and we don’t have too many people living in one home,” Woulfe said. “It might be better to get some help on the zoning side and set up better size limitations for sober homes.”
Deb Natzel, a Rule 25 Assessor for Isanti County, said the public needs to be more educated on sober homes.
“When you educate the public and say this is a sober home and they are required to be sober,” Natzel said. “Isn’t that better than having people using in your neighborhood?”
According to Woulfe, there is a facility in Cambridge that has townhomes which used to be a Minnesota extended treatment option that are sitting empty with approximately 84 beds.
“People are in desperate need of this type of transitional and sober housing, and they are just sitting there,” Woulfe said.
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad expressed three concerns he has regarding addiction.
“I appreciate the focus on opioids, but meth is still the king,” Edblad said. “The meth concern is always there, and I don’t want meth to get lost in the opioid discussion.”
The second point Edblad made is whether or not there is a sufficient number of juvenile treatment options in outstate Minnesota.
“That’s been a concern of mine from when I walked through the door on January 3 in 1995,” Edblad said. “When you look at the Isanti County area and Kanabec County, I don’t think we’ve got the sufficient number of juvenile treatment options available.”
The third issue Edblad is concerned about is general substance abuse.
“I’ve always respected and subscribed to the viewpoint that states and local governments are laboratories of democracy,” Edblad said. “In light of the insidious epidemic of youth nicotine use in this area, I am suggesting a federal T-21 law. The reality of it is at the state level they’ve tried to deal with it but the Legislature is always getting everything done at the last minute and things get dropped.”
Edblad said nicotine use through vaping has become an epidemic at Cambridge-Isanti High School.
“Paramedics were called to Cambridge-Isanti High School earlier this spring. There was a lock-down during spring semester when two students were vaping on something in the bathroom and overdosed. The reality of it is we are seeing tobacco products spike, and looking at the Department of Health statistics, Isanti County is one of the highest in the state. I can’t stress strongly enough the need for a federal T-21 law so we don’t have these situations where we have some municipalities saying yes and some saying no to keep it at 18.”