Mayor’s opioid task force hopes to curb crisis through community support

The task force, which includes University of Minnesota experts, is currently drafting policies for the 2020 City budget.

Mayor Jacob Frey speaks about affordable housing at a community event at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis on Thursday, Feb. 15.

Max Ostenso

Mayor Jacob Frey speaks about affordable housing at a community event at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis on Thursday, Feb. 15.

J.D. Duggan

The City of Minneapolis is taking a community-centered approach to address the opioid crisis by bringing together experts and community members, including those from the University of Minnesota.

The Mayor’s Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force on Opioids consists of a collection of subcommittees made up of community members and experts with the aim of reducing opioid dependence and overdose through increased support. The task force, which was proposed in Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s annual budget, was first laid out in May.  

“Before, [the City] just accepted that this is something that Hennepin County or the state or other nonprofits should deal with and it wasn’t a City issue, and we’re changing that,” Frey said. “We’re devoting real funding … towards developing a really comprehensive approach.”

Dr. Ryan Kelly, a graduate and assistant professor of medicine in the University’s Division of General Internal Medicine, is a member of the Community Systems Integration subcommittee. CSI aims to remove social barriers that inhibit those affected by the opioid crisis from seeking support in the community.

Kelly said his experience in an opioid treatment clinic taught him the importance of harm reduction and medical intervention. He values the fact that the task force, which includes many members of the Minneapolis Native American community, has broad representation from affected groups.

“It’s been a pretty rewarding experience as far as really helping people, kind of the most underserved of all people,” Kelly said.

Frey’s proposed $50,000 for 2019 will support the work of the subcommittees, who will have input in the 2020 budget allocations. 

Randy Anderson, an overdose prevention manager who recently resigned from the Treatment, Recovery, and Peer Support subcommittee, expressed skepticism about the task force having lasting effects.

“I really hope that the City is serious about addressing the opioid crisis and they’re really going to devote some time, energy and resources to that, not just saying they’re going to do it,” he said. “I hope to God that it’s not another politician just giving us lip service.”

Heidi Ritchie, Frey’s policy director, said this is the most the City has ever spent to combat the opioid problem. But she acknowledged past efforts have not always been substantive. 

“We hear that [skepticism] a lot, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that a lot of these communities, in particular the Native community, [have] had that happen to them more than one time,” Ritchie said.

The proposed budget allows for experts to create a funding plan instead of simply increasing health department allocations.  

“Once [the task force’s] work is done, the Mayor is committed to funding those items that we’re able to find success in,” she said.

Subcommittees will start writing policies and submitting proposals before the larger task force reconvenes in January. Action plans and recommendations will be taken into account in the 2020 budget. 

“One of the basic tenets of dealing with any kind of substance abuse or mental health issues is that it’s not a criminal issue at all,” Ritchie said. “It’s a social issue, it’s a mental health issue, it’s a resource issue, it’s a historical trauma and racism issue, and … it’s definitely not a criminal issue.”