Drugs were the topic during a discussion at Hutchinson City Center Wednesday.
Local health officials, first responders, health care providers and treatment professionals met with representatives from Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s staff to talk about the opioid and methamphetamine crisis. The consensus was that more resources are needed and access to treatment must be made easier.
Matt Wyatt, an investigator with the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office, said there are not enough law enforcement officers or drug investigators available to manage the rampant opioid problem in the state. As a result, tracking people distributing large amounts of controlled substances is lacking.
“Our primary service area is almost 300,000 people population-wise,” he said. “We currently have four agents working narcotics cases for the task force. That doesn’t mean we are the only people working drug cases in the area. … There are other investigators that do work drug cases, but it’s a fairly limited number. So it’s a small amount of people, half-dozen or less, that are generally working drug cases.”
Additionally, consistent funding and enforcement resources are an issue, Wyatt said. Although he doesn’t think that enforcement is the primary way to solve the opioid crisis, it is an important aspect for going after mid- and upper-level dealers of serious controlled substances.
“Those are people that are predatory,” he said. “They need to be held accountable.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, 4,144 Minnesotans were admitted for substance abuse disorders in 2007 with opioids as the primary drug. That number grew quickly, climbing to 9,010 in 2012, 10,778 in 2016, and roughly 11,131 in 2017.
Access to health care and treatment for people with addiction is a major issue facing McLeod County and the state as a whole, especially in rural areas, Wyatt said. It’s difficult for many people to be funneled into resources.
“I think there are only four opiate treatment programs licensed by the state currently,” he said. “Which means that anyone from McLeod County who wants to go into a methadone-type treatment has to travel every single day that they need that medication.”
Due to the lack of available resources, the existing patient programs have a huge waiting list, which can create cases where addicts relapse or reoffend, Wyatt said.
Dr. Brian Pollmann, a gastroenterologist and chief medical officer at Hutchinson Health, said that mental health resources also are lacking. This is important, he said, because the path toward chemical dependency is generally due to mental health. He rarely sees a person with a major addiction problem who also doesn’t have an underlying mental health issue.
“Those mental health issues generally lead to self-treatment with all these other types of substances that can be found,” he said.
Other hurdles prevent people from easier access to assistance, he said. For example, funds from Medicaid are controlled by the county, which requires chemical dependency evaluations to be done in order for a person to receive aid.
“We have chemical dependency providers at Hutchinson Health, (but) because of the way the rules are set up, we can’t provide them that direct access to those treatment facilities even if there was an opening,” Pollmann said. “The patient would need to be discharged upon (their own) cognizance, go to the county and get their evaluation and have that chemical dependency treatment available to them.”
Carmen Morrow, chemical health prevention specialist and REACH counselor at Hutchinson High School, said there is an increase in the number of students with mental health issues. Some students have received Ritalin, ADHD and ADD medication from other students. They crush the drugs and snort them, she said.
“A big piece for me is trying to educate parents and students. … A lot of schools are taking health classes out of the middle school years, which, in my opinion, is vital to help with their education piece,” she said. “We have a REACH program, we have an officer, we have administration that’s really on board.
Morrow said that she has seen a decrease in communication skills within families. Traditional time spent together such as eating at the dinner table as a family has been lost, and young people are increasingly distracted by electronic devices.
“All those things and more have been kind of a mixture for disaster,” she said, “when it comes to ‘how do kids and adults cope with the high stress that we face in this world today?’ and many of them really struggle.”