Minnesota community successfully combats opioid epidemic

A hospital prescription bottle was found at the scene of an overdose. In a county of just over 30,000 residents, one of the community’s four pharmacies alone filled 40,000 narcotic pill prescriptions every single month.

Staff members at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health knew they had to do something.

“We see an overdose death every three months in our county,” said Dr. Kurt Devine, a physician at CHI St. Gabriel’s in Little Falls, Minnesota. “That’s devastating, and the reality is that it’s preventable.”

Do you believe it’s time to turn the tide on opioid misuse in Minnesota communities?


In response, the hospital brought together physicians, a social worker, pharmacist and a dedicated nurse to form the Controlled Substance Care Team, a group whose sole task is preventing and treating opioid misuse. To do it, the group monitors patients prescribed narcotic medication to treat chronic pain.

Devine said, “Our goal is to do what we can do to help patients with their pain but decrease the narcotics coming out of our clinic.” If the team determines a patient may be misusing his or her medication, the group connects the patient with resources to treat his or her substance use disorder.

The care team works closely with law enforcement partners, but their goal may be surprising: keeping people out of jail. Deputy Jason McDonald, a narcotics investigator in Morrison County, partners with the hospital to help people experiencing opioid addiction.

“I can arrest people over, and over, and over again, but they don’t need jail,” Deputy McDonald said. “We need to get these people into treatment.”

Community sees real results

The entire community is seeing results. When the program started, pain was the number one reason patients visited the emergency room. Today, it’s not even in the top 20.

“When we prescribe fewer narcotics, we see fewer people in treatment, fewer people in our jails and fewer overdose deaths,” said Devine.

Lee Boyles, the hospital’s CEO and president, credits the community’s collaboration for the program’s success. “We all own a little bit of this problem, and we knew we couldn’t solve it alone,” he said.

Broadening the impact

As communities across the country search for remedies to the opioid crisis, this community in Greater Minnesota has a model that’s working. Its success has been so notable that the team was invited by Congressman Rick Nolan to provide a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C.

The team expected just a few people to attend, but the briefing room was full of congressional staff representing communities across the country.

Nolan said it was the team’s solution to the opioid issue that attracted so much attention. “Finally someone wasn’t just saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a really serious problem here!’” he said. “They had a model that worked.”

Turning the tide on the opioid epidemic

The hospital’s team is funded by a grant through April 2017. As the hospital looks for new funding, it also wants to share its success with other communities – but the program can’t be expanded without funding. It’s time for a statewide solution to Minnesota’s opioid crisis.

Will you help us stop the opioid crisis in Minnesota?