While alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin are the most widely consumed drugs in this country, they don’t get the media attention because death by opioids is more common.

A large number of deaths occur from opioid overdose mainly due to two reasons: 1) the uncertainty of a “safe” dosage and the purity of the drug when bought illegally; and 2) a person who returns to using opioids at the same level at which they previously used often overdoses because they don't have the same tolerance they had before.

A Collective Effort

Senator Amy Klobuchar

On April 6, 2018, in response to this crisis, the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health (MARRCH) organized a statewide Opioid Summit in partnership with the University Foundation, the College of Continuing and Professional Studies’ Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) and Addictions Counseling (ADDC) programs, and other area agencies. 

IBH/ADDC Director of Graduate Studies, Debra Wamsley, chaired the summit planning committee and moderated the panel discussion. Nine CCAPS students also volunteered at the event.

Participants included:

  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator Tina Smith 
  • Representative Tom Emmer
  • local lawmakers and judges 
  • agency administrators
  • law enforcement agents
  • business leaders
  • physicians and pharmacists
  • IBH/ADDC students
  • leadership from the University of Minnesota


Among the 435 attendees were top legislators and those on the frontline of fighting the opioid epidemic. "The impressive lawmaker turnout tells us that there is ongoing support and concern about addressing addiction in general, and more specifically, opioid addiction," Wamsley says.

"The impressive lawmaker turnout tells us that there is ongoing support and concern..."

Sheriff Rick Stanek

The morning sessions were devoted to giving a bird’s-eye view of the issue across the state. Attendees heard from “people who can impact change in their communities,” including a judge from Duluth, members of chambers of commerce, and leaders from the recovery community, “who are out there working to impact policy and offer support.”

The afternoon featured a panel discussion about the barriers and possible solutions to implementing real change in terms of fair sentencing, helping underserved communities, and addressing the disparities in services available. Panelists talked about ways to engage the business sector and communities across Minnesota.

What’s Next?

Jeff Schiff

The kickoff summit was just the beginning, Wamsley says. The next step is to take what’s working to greater Minnesota through regional summits and implement solutions on a smaller scale. Each MARRCH board member, including Wamsley, is charged with generating energy, building resources, and identifying needs within the region that they live/work to keep the conversation going. 

So what can be done? To start, she adds, “we could monitor prescriptions, prepare physicians better, require training for anyone who can prescribe these drugs. We need to do more research, create PSAs (public service announcements) to educate the public.”

“The question you have to ask yourself is, what do I have to offer? How can I get involved, stay involved, and get others involved?” There are currently up to 12 follow-up summits anticipated state-wide over the next several months. (The next one is in Mankato in September 2018.)


Jan Malcolm

Minnesota Association of Recovery Resources for Chemical Health (MARRCH), the state’s premier professional organization for the addictions field has a sustained membership topping 2,000. MARRCH provides annual trainings for over 1,500 addictions and allied professionals at their spring and fall conferences. Its mission includes tracking and impacting legislation relevant to behavioral health through advocacy and information dissemination.