Ramsey County announces opioid crisis coalition

Solomon Gustavo • Nicholas Warnke, who is recovering from opioid addiction, spoke about the dangers of opioid use during an April 19 Ramsey County press conference announcing the creation of a coalition to address the opioid health crisis.

During an April 19 press conference at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center, Ramsey County officials announced a coalition with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a drug and alcohol treatment and recovery program with locations throughout Minnesota, to address opioid-related deaths in the area.

According to a release about the event, there were 72 opioid-related deaths in Ramsey County last year, a 16 percent increase over 2016. In total, there were 112 opioid overdoses reported in Ramsey County in 2017.

Representatives from both coalition partners, and a person who was addicted to opioids, spoke about how opioid and opioid synthetics like fentanyl, the painkiller that caused Prince’s death, have ravaged communities throughout the country and what can be done to stop the health crisis. 

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Vice President Dr. Tim Walsh said tens of thousands of people overdose nationally every year. He emphasized the need for narcan, an overdose antidote, and for legislative support in place of relying on resources from nonprofits and charities. 

Though the breadth of the opioid problem is “sobering and important,” said Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier, the way out is to “start with hope.” He said the community cannot “arrest our way out,” adding that public education on how addictive opioids are and how important it is to “abstain from first use” is necessary. 

“Too many people are dying,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. He echoed Serrier’s call for public education and moving away from arresting users, specifically referencing what he called mistakes made during the crack cocaine epidemic decades earlier.

Lending personal experience to the argument for efforts to inform the public about opioids was recovering user Nicholas Warnke. His said his story of addiction began mainly because he didn’t know much about opioids. 

The coalition also consists of “community leaders, government workers and local advocates,” according to a joint Ramsey County and Minnesota Teen and Adult Challenge press release. Meeting monthly, the coalition will “plan events and messaging for the community.”

The 3 p.m. press conference also announced the coalition’s “Not Another Overdose” campaign, which the release says will include “prevention events, community messaging and a PSA that will be shown at local movie theaters.”


– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815


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