Small Town Tackles Opioid Crisis With Treatment, Compassion

By Beth Leipholtz 02/27/19

Despite its small size, Little Falls has reined in its drug epidemic by allocating $1.4 million in grants in the past five years.

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a person from a small town offering compassion to another person

As a 25-year-old in Little Falls, Minnesota, Monica Rudolph would steal money from her parents' savings, little by little, so she could support her heroin use. 

Eventually, according to BuzzFeed News, the money was gone. Monica’s parents discovered the empty box in their home, and that’s when her mother began calling treatment centers. But she kept hitting dead ends—treatment centers saying they were closed for the weekend, or that they could not take Monica for a few weeks. 

That’s when her mother decided to call the local hospital—and it worked. Monica was connected with a substance abuse counselor and was told to come in the next day to begin treatment.  

“My hometown of 8,000 people was the one place in the state that picked up the phone,” Monica said. “Think of all the people like me who don’t have that hometown.”

Despite its small size, Little Falls has reined in its drug epidemic in by allocating $1.4 million in grants in the past five years, BuzzFeed News reports. The money has been spent on limiting refills, increasing access to medications to treat substance use disorder, putting treatment ahead of jail and other public health measures. 

The efforts paid off. BuzzFeed News reports that visits to the ER for painkillers—once the top reason for visits—isn’t even in the top 20 now. The hospital now has 100 patients on substance use disorder medications and has helped 626 people taper off opioids. 

“One thing led to another,” Kurt DeVine, one of Monica’s doctors, told BuzzFeed News. “We realized we had to do a lot of things we weren’t doing, and that we had to do them together, or it wasn’t going to work.”

Now, DeVine and his colleague, Heather Bell, lead online seminars about how Little Falls has tackled the opioid crisis. They help towns to think bigger than just one thing.

“They get Narcan, or they get one little project and they think that is going to fix it,” DeVine says. “There is no easy answer. It is a lot of work. If we were doing only one thing, just Narcan, our problem would be as bad as anywhere else. You have to do it all.”

In Little Falls specifically, the hospital formed a “Care Team,” made up of a social worker, a nurse, two doctors, and a pharmacist. The team’s focus is to help patients like Monica. They have also changed their thinking from treating substance use disorder as a crime to considering it a disease. 

“If you find a person’s urine has a bunch of meth and not their pain meds, you make the assumption they are selling their pain meds to get meth,” Bell told BuzzFeed News. “But we don’t kick them out of our clinic. We say, ‘OK, what is going on? Do you need help?’ Then we get them into treatment.”

Now, Monica is taking the opportunity to give back to the community that helped her recover. Through training in a federal program, she will now serve as the hospital’s first “peer” counselor. 

“My life has come full circle,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I’m really excited to give something back.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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