South Country's efforts showing improvements in fight against opioid epidemic

In 2016, more than 42,000 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids. In Minnesota, there was 395 deaths related to opioid overdose that same year. Nearly half of those are involve a prescription drug.

A free drop-off site in the lobby of the Wadena County Sheriff's Office allows people to get rid of unwanted prescription drugs. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
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In 2016, more than 42,000 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids. In Minnesota, there was 395 deaths related to opioid overdose that same year. Nearly half of those are involve a prescription drug.

Leota Lind, CEO at South Country Health Alliance spoke about what the health insurance program is doing to see the trend of opioid misuse drop during a recent Wadena County Board meeting. Lind shared some hard facts about the 12 counties served by SCHA.

"You'll notice that over half of all opioid overdoses are the result of prescription drugs," Lind said.

"More than 40 people die every day from an overdose of prescription use."

And in Wadena County, the epidemic is well documented, too.


• Wadena County had the second highest rates for the number of members per thousand with an opioid prescription, over a three-year period.

"But what you'll also see is there is a continued decrease in that, that's something we were pleased to see," Lind said.

• More data showed that Wadena County was in third place for number of opioid prescriptions written.

• The county is in fourth place for number of opioid pills per thousand members.

• Wadena County sits in the middle for cost of pills for members, with Goodhue County more than twice the cost. Lind said there was some major cost differences and it was good news that Wadena County was using the lower cost prescriptions.

• Most opioid prescriptions in Wadena County are written to those age 40-49.

Minnesota introduced opioid prescribing guidelines in 2018. One part of that involves limiting the amount of opioids for the first prescription.

"That's one of the factors that has been contributing to seeing the decrease in this," Lind said.


She also explained that they've taken a closer look at the types of pains (acute, post-acute and chronic) and determined that the most critical time to intervene in the use of opioids is when pain is occuring post-acute pain, 45 days following an acute pain event. If they can stop misuse before it starts they can hopefully avoid adding another number to those addicted to the drugs.

SCHA has a target population that they are pursuing to prevent opioid misuse. It includes those that have:

• Had no opioid fills in the past 90 days,

• At least two prescriptions,

• At least seven days of opiate treatment.

Those targeted get phone calls from SCHA staff in order to assess the use of the opiods. Staff first call to assess the use, make sure drugs are properly stored, disposed of and discuss a follow-up plan. Depending on the situation second and third calls are made. Data is showing that the third call is not often needed.

If an individual is still using at 45 days, the chief medical officer reaches out to the prescribing physician to discuss alternative means of pain management.

"There've been very few cases where we've had to do that physician outreach," Lind said.


Lind explained that storage and disposal are highly stressed because it's been found that more than 75 percent of misuse of opioids involved persons that have received the opioids from someone else, and she found estimates that 30 percent of opioid prescriptions are diverted-stolen or sold on the street.

Those steps taken are working to fight misuse early on and Lind recognized that there are those that have been using and misusing for years. Another factor looks to address that. That piece is medication assisted treatment. This medication works to get the user off opioids.

Lind said this has worked well in Morrison County to decrease misuse.

Wadena County Human Services director Tanya Leskey spoke positively about SCHA saying that the work they are doing is saving the county money.

"We've spent $120,000 on substance abuse related services for Wadena County so the efforts that South Country Health Alliance has taken on targeting this population can only positively impact our budget here in Wadena County," Leskey said.

SCHA funding

While visiting, Lind also updated county commissioners on the status of SCHA funding saying that the health program is still waiting on rates from the state. That could determine if a cash call is needed. Lind hopes for a better outcome than that.

"We are planning for the worst," she said. "We are trying to take as much out of the budget as we can for this year," Lind said.

She mentioned a slight softening in medical claims that would soften the high expenses for the program.



Get rid of unused prescriptions

If you have unused prescriptions, don't leave them in you medicine cabinet where they can be stolen or misused by someone in the home. Consider bringing them to a drop off site like the one at the Wadena County Sheriff's Office. Directions of where to place them and what is accepted are written plainly at drop-off location.

Related Topics: WADENA COUNTY
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