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Spotlight shines on drug, alcohol abuse this week

Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed May 12-18 as Prevention Week in Minnesota (PDF) in conjunction with National Prevention Week. This coincides with progress on Minnesota's first comprehensive plan to address substance abuse, as several recommendations in the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy are being carried in legislation at the Capitol.

Released in September, the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy (PDF) calls for coordination by state agencies to address the far-reaching impacts of drug and alcohol abuse. In addition to its human toll, substance abuse exacts large costs to law enforcement, courts, corrections, human services, public health, health care, education, business, and ultimately, Minnesota taxpayers.

"Substance abuse has a devastating effect on individuals, families, communities and the state as a whole. By government working together with both public and private partners we can be more efficient and effective in addressing this costly issue," said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who is leading implementation of the strategy with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman.

Earlier this year, the commissioners selected five priority areas for immediate focus, including integration of substance abuse screening into all health care settings, expansion of drug and other specialty courts, maximization of federal and state support for multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, data collection and prevention messaging, and enhancements to the Prescription Monitoring Program. The strategy's steering committee, which includes representatives from numerous state agencies and organizations, are working to see aspects incorporated in House and Senate bills.

Among proposed legislation is an effort to expand the number of health care settings using Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. Training and materials will be provided to primary care centers, hospital emergency rooms, trauma centers and other health care settings to improve early intervention for at-risk substance users. Additional funding to expand mental health services in schools would also help practitioners identify problems earlier.

"Minnesota has a serious problem with binge drinking, and alcohol-related problems cost the state more than $5 billion every year," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "That is why it is crucial to support communities, families, schools, service organizations and health care providers in their efforts to implement positive policy changes and educational campaigns that will lead to youth and adults making healthy choices regarding drug and alcohol use."

Other legislation includes increased oversight for methadone clinics, additional funding to increase drug court programs, investments in the state's criminal toxicology labs to address a rise in increasingly complex synthetic drugs, and a proposal that strengthens the Prescription Monitoring Program making it easier for doctors and pharmacists to prevent patients from improperly obtaining drugs.