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U of M pharmacist helps prevent heroin addictions and deaths in northern Minnesota

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Heroin addictions have been rapidly increasing over the past decade. This has been especially problematic in northern Minnesota, where the number of people admitted for treatment and the number of deaths associated with heroin and opioids are higher than in any other part of the state.

According to College of Pharmacy assistant professor, Laura Palombi, Pharm.D., drug abuse deaths now surpass traffic deaths in Minnesota.

“Drug addiction is a huge problem in the United States, and heroin abuse is especially dangerous and increasing in prevalence,” Palombi said.

Palombi is on the front lines in northern Minnesota, working directly with the community to address heroin and opioid abuse in ways that make sense for specific communities.

“What works for one part of the state doesn’t work everywhere, and each community has different strengths that they can utilize to combat the drug abuse epidemic,” Palombi said.

One community-based approach is through the Carlton County Drug Court which celebrated its grand opening earlier this year. One of 50 in Minnesota, this is a specialized, problem-solving court program that targets non-violent criminal offenders who suffer from addiction to drugs, including opioids, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

“In lieu of incarceration, drug courts use a treatment-based approach in addition to intensive supervision and judicial oversight to support chemically-dependent participants in maintaining sobriety,” Palombi said.

While in Drug Court, participants complete treatment, follow Drug Court recommendations for maintaining sobriety, provide random urinalysis tests and comply with random home visits. The program lasts for at least a year.

Palombi meets weekly with other professionals in the Carlton County and Fond du Lac Reservation community that are dedicated to helping those with addiction, such as probation officers, social services and law enforcement. They work together to support Drug Court participants as they rebuild substance-free lives.

As a pharmacist, Palombi plays a vital role in getting these participants to sobriety.

Palombi has extensive knowledge of the health care system and can help participants navigate any barriers they encounter in seeking care. She can also answer questions about assisted treatment for opioid abuse and opioid reversal agents, like Naloxone.

Palombi also uses the Drug Court as a learning opportunity for her students in the College of Pharmacy on the Duluth campus.

“They learn about the daily struggles of the patients to maintain sobriety and see the more personal side of addiction,” Palombi said.

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