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OPIOID EMERGENCY Treatment programs limited in Jamestown area

Opioids are primarily prescribed for pain relief and include a number of prescription medicines. President Donald Trump declared the abuse of opioids a national health emergency last week. John M. Steiner / The Sun.

A local official charged with treating drug abuse isn’t sure what the declaration by President Donald Trump of opioid abuse as a public health emergency will mean for local agencies, but does know the drugs are dangerous and causing problems in our area.

“Opiates, and substance use more broadly, does not discriminate and impacts people across socioeconomic, racial and age groups,” said Dan Cramer, regional director for South Central Human Service Center.

Opioids include heroin and numerous prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl, to name a few. The category does not include methamphetamines, which are classified as a stimulant.

Cramer called opioids and meth significant problems that need to be addressed.

“Opioids are highly addictive,” Cramer said. “... treatment is effective and we would encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out for help.”

Enforcement

The problem of opioids, at least in the Jamestown area, is growing, according to Jonathan Hirchert, a Stutsman County Sheriff’s Department deputy and a member of the Stutsman County Narcotics Task Force.

“From what I’ve seen, opioids hadn’t been seen a lot until recently,” he said. “Now, typically we find a variety of pills with meth when we make arrests.”

Hirchert said many of the people they investigate say they use both meth and opioids as part of their addiction. Some users attempt to use the pills to balance out their behavior so their meth use is not as obvious.

Most opioids found in Stutsman County are in the form of pills and come from a variety of sources, Hirchert said.

“In some cases, we find out people who were prescribed pills sell them,” he said. “In one case, a person had a surgery and arranged to sell the pills before they were prescribed.”

In other cases, the drugs are brought illicitly into the area from a variety of sources, Hirchert said.

Many of the investigations by the Stutsman County Narcotics Task Force start with a tip from the public.

“We get people calling us about who is using,” Hirchert said. “Then we try to find who is selling the drugs to them and then we try to find who is bringing it into our community.”

Many of the same people who sell meth in the area also sell opioids, he said.

“In our region, meth and pills make up most of our (drug) cases,” Hirchert said.

Treatment

Pam Sagness, director of the Behavioral Health Division of the North Dakota Department of Human Services, said she hoped opioids being declared a public health emergency would improve access to treatment.

... opioids hadn’t been seen a lot until recently, Now, typically we find a variety of pills with meth when we make arrests.

JONATHAN HIRCHERT, Stutsman County deputy and member of Stutsman County Narcotics Task Force

“We’re in the capacity building stage now,” she said.

One focus of the Department of Human Services is on the opioid treatment program. This program uses medications such as methadone and buprenorphine to aid in the treatment of the opioid addict. Methadone reduces cravings for the drug and limits withdrawal symptoms while buprenorphine reduces withdrawal symptoms for a longer period of time.

The opioid treat program offered in Minot, Fargo and Bismarck in North Dakota, is an outpatient program, Sagness said.

The North Dakota State Hospital does use medications in its substance abuse treatment programs but they are not considered an outpatient treatment program, Sagness said.

Another option is a primary care physician prescribing the drug buprenorphine as part of substance abuse treatment.

“Prescribing buprenorphine requires special training (for the physician),” Sagness said. “We (Department of Human Services) can provide funding for that training but I’m not aware of anyone prescribing buprenorphine in Jamestown.”

Sagness said one advantage of opioids being declared a national health emergency is the attention it is drawing to the problem. That could lead to more treatment options in Jamestown.

“Community awareness is growing,” she said. “We see more attention and awareness to opioids now than ever.”

There are no simple solutions for the opioid problem.

“We need a multifaceted approach,” Sagness said. “We need treatment, prevention and law enforcement to get out of this problem.”

knorman@jamestownsun.com (701)

952-8452

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