New opioid prevention strategies launched by St. Louis County

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Public Health & Human Services Dept. • 320 West Second Street, Suite 605 • Duluth, MN 55802
Phone: (218) 726-2096 •

Linnea Mirsch


June 7, 2018

CONTACT: Josh Gorham, Public Health Nurse


St. Louis County launches new opioid prevention strategies

The St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department will be rolling out new opioid prevention efforts in the coming months. St. Louis County, with the support of Healthy Northland, was recently selected to be one of two counties piloting opioid prevention strategies through the Minnesota Department of Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP). The work will focus on rural/northern St. Louis County and will involve a tiered prevention strategy that aims primarily at reducing exposure and abuse of opioids.



As awareness of the opioid epidemic has grown across Minnesota, state legislators and public health leaders have been collaborating with community organizations in response. The St. Louis County Board initiated the Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Initiative (SAPII) in 2014, which includes a team of three Social Workers and two Public Health Educators.


“The leadership by the St. Louis County SAPII team to lay the groundwork around substance abuse prevention put us in a strong position to add new elements to the work being done to address the opioid epidemic,” said Amy Westbrook, Public Health Division Director with the county.


The tiered opioid prevention strategy will focus on three goals. The first goal is to partner with healthcare clinics and providers to align opioid prescriber guidelines and protocols with current best practices as recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health. The second goal is to decrease the supply of opioid medications circulating in the community by educating about and promoting safe disposal of unused medications. The third goal is to integrate the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), an evidence-based, harm reduction model into St. Louis County Public Health home visiting programs and other healthcare systems.


St. Louis County has been implementing the SBIRT model for several years and has seen a very positive impact.


“The SBIRT model has been proven effective in the identification and intervention with individuals at risk of developing or struggling with a substance use disorder,” said Marcia Gurno, a social worker on the St. Louis County SAPII team. “SBIRT has been found to reduce alcohol and drug use significantly; reduce accidents, injuries, trauma, emergency department visits, depression, drug-related infections, and infectious diseases; and may reduce work-impairment, reduce DUIs, and improve neonatal outcomes. SBIRT also increases clinicians’ awareness of substance abuse issues offering clinicians a systematic approach to addressing substance use rather than making a judgment call.”

“Minnesota’s opioid crisis continues to be a major health concern, as shown by the surge in fentanyl deaths in 2017,” said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “Collaborations like this one with St. Louis County help Minnesota address the problem because they allow us to implement and test the most promising local solutions for saving lives and healing communities.”



“We are excited about the opportunity to pilot opioid prevention strategies that will be focused on rural St. Louis County and are looking forward to continuing work with area partners to improve the health of the communities we serve,” said Jana Blomberg, a Public Health Educator on the St. Louis County SAPII team for northern St. Louis County.



To learn more about Opioid Prevention Strategies in Northern St. Louis County, contact Jana Blomberg 218-471-7613 or For Southern St. Louis County contact Ali Randall at 218-726-2481 or