Widseth: Rural Minnesota's biggest need is more treatment facilities and mental health services.

    Around 18 months after an initial forum addressing the opioid epidemic, Polk County Public Health and a plethora of other agencies and organizations hosted a follow-up forum at Crookston High School Wednesday evening, and the word from Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier and Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth was that continued hard work on the part of a lot of people is starting to show positive results. But, both cautioned, when one thing starts to trend in the right direction, another thing inevitably rears its ugly head.

    Opioid overdoses and prosecuted crimes involving opioid are both trending downward, but Biermaier and Widseth both noted that methamphetamine use at the same time is spiking. Widseth said meth cases are perhaps at the highest point ever.

    “Our work involves not just the addicted, but those afflicted by the addicted,” Biermaier said.

    The work being done in the past 18 months directly targets drug use and drug crime, obviously, he continued, but the work is also focused on the community, with education and also making the community comfortable in dealing with law enforcement and seeing help when needed.

    Biermaier said the county’s drug court is the best thing he’s seen in the past five years. “You see the graduates, and they say we’ve changed their lives,” he said. “It’s trying to improve one life at a time, and that’s not a me thing, it’s a we thing.”

    Widseth said community awareness and awareness in the medical community has driven opioid abuse down somewhat. But with meth and other drug use, the challenge is as daunting as ever. The latest numbers, for example, show that for every one DUI arrest involving alcohol, there are two DUI arrests involving drivers under the influence of meth, cocaine or opioids.

    Rural Minnesota needs more resources to tackle the multi-faceted problems, Widseth said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this,” he said. “We need more treatment facilities, we need more mental health services. That’s the biggest need in rural Minnesota.”