Congressman Rick Nolan

Representing the 8th District of Minnesota
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Morrison County Record: Congress to hear Morrison County’s success in combating prescription drug abuse

Jul 12, 2016
In The News

During 2014, one of nurses working in the emergency room (ER) at the St. Gabriel’s Hospital mentioned to CHI St. Gabriel’s Health foundation director Kathy Lange that the ER was seeing many patients requesting narcotics to treat pain.
“Drug monitoring was our number one reason for patients being seen in our emergency room,” said Lange.

Some patients even traveled long distances to obtain the opioids in an attempt to avoid detection or to find an additional source when they had already obtained the drugs at a hospital or clinic closer to their home.

After doing some additional research, Lange said they understood that it was a problem that needed to be addressed locally.

The Medicaid Managed Care Insurance plan in Morrison County, South Country Health Alliance, revealed that about 30 percent of its patients had eight or more multiple prescriptions for narcotics.
In January 2015, St. Gabriel’s was awarded one of 12 State Innovation Model (SIM) two-year grants from the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services.

St. Gabriel’s received $377,000 in grant money to combat the issue. The funds made it possible to hire a nurse, a social worker and a pharmacist to work together.

They also recognized the need for a better method of communication between doctors and hospitals when it came to patients’ needs and medical histories.

It would also prevent patients from “doctor shopping” in order to obtain narcotic drugs at a multitude of locations. This was made easier through the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) — a database that allows doctors to share information to see if patients have more than one prescription.


A prescription drug task force was formed, consisting of representatives from the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office, Little Falls Police Department, Morrison County Social Services, Morrison County Public Health, Morrison County Drug Court, Little Falls Independent School District, Coborn’s Pharmacy, St. Gabriel’s Hospital pharmacy, Family Medical Center and other local community homecare, hospice and skilled nursing facilities.

Lange said the joint effort really paid off, as they’ve seen a decrease in prescription drug usage. Once all the hiring and processes were in place, their efforts saved $439,000 taxpayer dollars through their medical assistance provider in a four-month period (Sept. 2015-Dec. 2015). That was also when they began to monitor the patients.

“This amount contributed to less costly ER visits from patients and reducing the number of prescriptions for narcotics,” she said.

In February, Lange traveled to Washington, D.C. through the Stand Up 4 U Coalition training and had the opportunity to visit with Rep. Rick Nolan about their efforts.

“It piqued his interest and I asked if he would consider funding it after our grant funds were depleted,” said Lange. “His answer was ‘Absolutely.’”

St. Gabriel’s President Lee Boyles, Vice President of Finance Steve Smith and Lange visited with Nolan in Washington, D.C., April 21, to talk more about the prescription narcotic reduction and abuse project, as well as grants for five other projects.

“I thought it went very well. We met and discussed our need for the additional funding for those programs and they’re probably a real hot item right now, just like in this bill, the prescription narcotic reduction and abuse,” said Boyles.

Seeing the effective results, Nolan invited the team to do a congressional briefing, July 12. Lange, Boyles, physicians Dr. Kurt Devine and Dr. Heather Bell, clinic administrator Rhonda Buckallew, Jason McDonald with the Morrison County Drug Task Force and a patient who has had success with opioid recovery will attend.

Soon the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was making its way through the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“What that means to us is that we will get some of the dollars first and then whatever is allotted in this bill,” said Lange. “It passed the House 400 to 5.”

“You never think something’s going to get that far because it’s Little Falls (a smaller town),” said Boyles.
Boyles said several other medical providers are starting to adopt the same model as St. Gabriel’s in combating prescription narcotic and drug abuse. The program often makes the topic at various medical seminars and other classes, as well.

“People are talking about what we’re doing,” he said.

Even though many in the medical profession were aware of the problem, no one really knew how to address it. That is, until now.

“We have a process that works that others are really noticing. Probably the biggest thing is that we’re making really measurable improvements on the reduction and on saving costs,” said Boyles.

Looking back, Lange said they were very fortunate to be awarded the grant in 2015.
“Opioid use is such a hot topic for the nation right now and it seems surreal that we noticed this two years ago and were fortunate to be awarded the grant,” she said.

The Minnesota Department of Health has selected the Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force as the recipient for this year’s Minnesota Rural Health Team Award.