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HOPE event will explore drug-related issues in Park Rapids area

The Hubbard County Opioid and Education awareness (HOPE) initiative is hosting an education and awareness event Wednesday, Oct. 4 at the Park Rapids Area High School auditorium.

The event features keynote speaker state Representative Dave Baker, along with a panel discussion with Sheriff Cory Aukes, Co-occurring Therapist Rita Anderson of A Better Connection and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Dee Aleckson from Essentia Health and Scott Geiselhart, a former Minnesota firefighter who suffers from PTSD and is recovering from addiction. Hubbard County Attorney Jonathan Frieden will emcee the program which runs from 5 to 8 p.m.

The program will look at the dynamics of substance use disorders, treatment options, and why help is so important for those that are struggling in the community.

The event will kick off at 5 pm with a light dinner. Attendees are invited to spend time at various information booths which will highlight resources available in the immediate and surrounding community.

Rep. Baker and his wife, Mary, lost their son, Dan Baker, to an accidental opioid overdose at age 25, in 2011. The family launched the Dan Baker Foundation with a mission to help individuals and families fighting addiction. In 2014, Baker decided to run for state representative for District 17B.

Now in his second term, Baker works to save other families from the pain his family has suffered. He was instrumental in passing legislation that requires ambulances and first response teams to use Narcan in overdose cases. He partnered to sponsor a law that requires doctors to sign up for Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), a database that requires doctors to put the names of people who have been prescribed Schedule II drugs.

Baker is asking the medical community to find other solutions for pain, such as therapy or chiropractic treatment. He is asking doctors and dentists to only prescribe small amounts of the drugs.

He speaks to groups around Minnesota in his ongoing campaign to educate people about the opioid epidemic and how to help curb it.

Baker is the chief author of five bills in the Minnesota Opioid Reform Act. He is hoping to find money from pharmaceutical companies to integrate PMPs with people's health records in their doctor's offices.

HOPE is led by facilitator Dr. Michele Thiemen of Essentia Health, along with a committee made up of community stakeholders directly involved in drug-related issues facing the Park Rapids area.

HOPE formed as a result of community meeting held last December where Thieman discussed the problem of pain medication and reaching out to people in numerous professions in the community directly tied to the issue — from medical providers and administrators to law enforcement to mental health providers and social workers. The presenters talked about the importance of working together on education, prevention, awareness, treatment and providing healthy activities for children and adults to engage in the community.

Thieman helped form HOPE in an effort to involve people in this community who walk in different paths — different personal and professional paths — to start discussing how the Park Rapids area can better take care of the people who live here and how addressing the use of prescription opioids and illegal drugs is a very important component of that conversation. Thieman says there is a drug problem everywhere. It's certainly worse in other parts of the country, but the Park Rapids area is not immune to it.

Part of the problem, Thieman stated, is that for health care professionals the issue of opioid abuse is hugely time consuming. Often, people present with what they think is physical pain, and often they do have physical pain. But more often, they also have other pain — pain from depression, anxiety, joblessness, loneliness, limited education, stress, being overworked. They "treat" that pain with drugs and alcohol. Physicians are enabling patients to not face real issues by allowing them to use opioid medications in excess, or even instead of more appropriate treatments.

"Once we at Essentia Health started really looking at this problem head-on, I realized how prevalent and huge it is. This is everywhere, every day," Thieman said.

Sheriff Aukes will provide law enforcement's perspective on how the drug problem affects the community and how it should be addressed.

As the county's prosecuting attorney, Frieden is expected to provide information related to drug abuse specific to Hubbard County.

Alleckson has worked as a prescribing psychiatric nurse practitioner and specializes in the treatment of adults with autism, depression, and anxiety.

Anderson is a dual-licensed clinician working with patients struggling with both mental health and substance use disorders. She works with patients who suffer from disordered eating and also those struggling with chronic pain.

"The goal of the event is to get more members of the community talking about substance abuse in the Park Rapids area. Solutions will not come easily but the goal is to get people talking and thinking about the problem and to better understand how we as a community can tackle it," Thieman said. "You know people who suffer from substance use — alcohol, pain medications, heroin, meth, marijuana, benzos — come join the conversation; better understand for yourself, your friends, your family, what is happening and why, and how you can be a part of the solution."