Minnesota health leaders look towards the future of substance use disorder treatment


Hannah Saunders


At the 2023 Minnesota State of Reform Health Policy Conference last month, leaders discussed the progress the state has made in increasing access to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. Speakers focused on the utilization of technology and funding streams. 

Jeremy Drucker, state director of addiction and recovery, said when addressing SUD it’s important to look at the full continuum of care—prevention, harm, reduction, treatment, and recovery—to understand how they’re intertwined and to find ways to strengthen the continuum.

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“We’re really at a critical juncture when it comes to SUD, particularly with the opioid epidemic, particularly with the rise of fentanyl and how that’s really changed the landscape—in a lot of ways—of how we approach opioid use disorder in particular, but substance use disorder more broadly,” Drucker said. 

Drucker thinks Minnesota took a nontraditional approach during last year’s legislative session by moving towards a public health approach to substance use treatment and creating investments across the whole continuum of care. In the public safety budget bill passed last year, legislators included the legalization of drug paraphernalia possession, which will assist with decriminalizing addiction. 

Kenneth Roberts, chief medical officer of Nuway Alliance, a nonprofit organization focused on recovery access, explained how when focusing on the opioid crisis, the state shouldn’t exclude individuals who use substances like alcohol or meth.

“We’re doing a good job of recognizing problems, but I think sometimes we need to be sure we’re adjusting our vision to be sure that as we look at one, we don’t forget about another,” Roberts said. 

Funding within the SUD space, historically, has been very restrictive, according to Roberts, who added how industry needs must include a wide variety of providers in both metro and rural areas. 

Brian Zirbes, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health, said provider reimbursement rates are key when it comes to strengthening the system. He explained how low reimbursement rates encourage nurses to leave for other positions with higher rates and increase strain on providers. To combat this, Zirbes suggests forgiving student loans, providing free training, and easing providers’ workload.

Drucker said technology can be used to support the SUD  workforce and noted how the state is interested in leveraging technology to increase access points in the continuum of care.

“Technology offers a very powerful platform to increase connection, and so I think from that front in terms of real time access to people who may be isolated, having an ability to reach someone and connect with someone through technology [is important], and there’s a lot of innovation in this space going on right now with different organizations playing hard with that, and I think there’s been a lot of success there,” Drucker said. 

Roberts believes the state has made great strides in the use of technology since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that changes need to be made to connect providers with patients in a better fashion, and to allow providers to access medical records of clients referred from hospitals. Going into 2024, Roberts said youth SUD will be a focus.

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