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By Mark Wasson

Union-Times Contributor

In response to recent news articles regarding the high level of prescription opioid pills distributed in Mille Lacs County, the county released a statement highlighting its efforts to combate the opioid crisis.

“Drug addiction ruins lives, families and communities. It strains law enforcement resources and the criminal justice system everywhere,” reads the statement. “Addicts come from every background, every circumstance, but the actions of others can make their fights harder or easier.”

According to data obtained by the Washington Post after the newspaper gained access to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), Mille Lacs County received over 9 million prescription pain pills from 2006 to 2012, which is roughly enough for 50 pills per person per year.

The county received the highest number of pain pills per capita in Minnesota during those years.

“Even before the problem of over-prescription of opioids was highlighted by the Washington Post, the county has been steadfast in its commitment to help those battling opioid addiction,” said the statement.

The county said some of the services used to help battle addiction included chemical-use assessments, court-ordered treatment programs, and case management from Community and Veteran Services, Mille Lacs County Probation, and the Department of Corrections.

County inmates are also provided an option to receive a Vivitrol shot to curb opioid cravings when they are released from jail by the sheriff’s office.

Deputies are equipped with Narcan as an intervention to treat opioid overdoses as well.

With the backing of the county, Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh, along with others in the criminal justice system, are working to create a drug treatment court that will “use evidence-based best practices to create opportunities for positive change in drug-addicted individuals.”

A pilot project is intended to start after approval by the 7th District Judicial Council. The county said it will be monitoring any legal actions as a result of this newly published data to curb of the overprescribing of painkillers and recovering expenses incurred by the county.

According to the statement, the county will continue to partner with federal, local and tribal governments regarding the public health crisis. “If facts suggest that criminal prosecution may be warranted, those matters will be referred to the county attorney,” read the statement.

Mark Wasson is an APG of East Central Minnesota freelance contributing reporter who covers municipal and county government.

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