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U.S. Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber listens as Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh discusses the county’s need for an Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

(Editor’s Note: This story is associated with a three-part series developed by Adams Publishing Group newspapers that will address the nation’s ongoing and evolving opioid crisis. Part 1 explores the magnitude of the problem across the country as well as its causes and impacts. Part 2 will focus on treatment options for people addicted to opioids and the availability of those services. Part 3 will assess policies state and local governments are pursuing to stem the epidemic.)

Mille Lacs County has made the establishment of a county drug treatment court one of its top legislative priorities in 2019.

The county is once again applying for an Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

During their April 2 meeting, commissioners approved another attempt at applying for a grant, also signing a supporting resolution and agreeing to provide more than $166,000 in matching funds over a four-year period if a federal grant is awarded.

The Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program provides financial and technical assistance to states, state courts, local courts, units of local government, and federally recognized Indian tribal governments to develop and implement adult drug courts and veterans treatment courts.

Such courts integrate evidence-based substance abuse treatment, mandatory drug testing, sanctions and incentives, and transitional services in judicially supervised court settings that have jurisdiction over offenders to reduce recidivism and substance abuse, and prevent overdoses.

The grant program’s description and overview states the following: In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses, an increase from 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016.

The majority of these deaths can be attributed to opioids, which include illicit fentanyl and its analogue drugs.

Last month, U.S. 8th District Rep. Pete Stauber met with the Mille Lacs County Board to discuss a variety of issues.

The county’s continued effort to establish a drug court was one of the first issues discussed during the March 18 meeting.

An overview the county’s need for a drug court was provided by Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh.

“There’s no secret that in Mille Lacs County, there is a drug abuse problem, as there is throughout the state of Minnesota,” Walsh told Stauber and members of the County Board.

Over half of the people in Minnesota have access to a drug court, Walsh said. Mille Lacs County residents do not.

“These types of courts help make sure more resources are provided to help offenders get the different types of treatment that they need, instead of just making it a condition of their probation,” Walsh explained. “All too often what I see is people who don’t get a warm handoff to treatment. They don’t enroll, then a warrant goes out for their arrest and we see them months later on a warrant.”

Walsh said drug court programs typically schedule weekly hearings and generate very small caseloads for probation agents, allowing them to better supervise people.

During last month’s meeting with Stauber, Walsh asked the congressman to write a letter of recommendation for Mille Lacs County that could be included in its application to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Mille Lacs County officials have until the middle of this month to submit the application.

“We are confident we will be competitive in seeking grant funding this year,” Walsh said. “My understanding is that there are even more grant dollars that are being put toward drug courts than last year, and last year was a record amount. It’s not an easy process to establish, but we do know drug courts work. It’s not a small investment, but it’s one that we think is needed for Mille Lacs County.”

Stauber, a police officer of 23 years with the city of Duluth and a former St. Louis County commissioner, said he would write a letter for Mille Lacs County with full enthusiasm.

“St. Louis County has had a very successful drug court,” Stauber said. “The drug problem spans across this nation. I’m the father of four teenage kids, and what do you think my greatest fear is? My kids succumbing to peer pressure and experimenting with drugs. There isn’t a person in this room who hasn’t been affected by it. It’s not a victimless crime. It’s devastating, and taking away our youth and communities.”

In his letter to Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Jon Adler, Stauber stated Mille Lacs County will greatly benefit from establishing a drug treatment court.

County officials have previously attended a drug court planning initiative and are scheduled to do so again this year, Stauber stated, adding, “I am impressed by their efforts and believe it justifies the investment of federal funds that will be used to provide appropriate supervision for drug treatment court participants.”

Stauber recommended that Mille County be awarded a $500,000, four-year implementation grant award effective this year.

“Most of the state of Minnesota has access to a drug treatment court,” Stauber’s letter concluded. “It is past time to add the people of Mille Lacs County to that list and begin taking steps to solve the problem of controlled substance abuse, one person in recovery at a time.”

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