Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Minnesota: Improving Health Outcomes by Expanding Harm Reduction Strategies A Prospective Policy Analysis
Master of Public Health
Background: Morbidity and mortality from opioid misuse is worsening in Minnesota, and synthetic opioids have exacerbated the public health problem for vulnerable communities. People who inject drugs (PWID) due to social, health, economic and environmental factors are experiencing increased fatal overdoses. Minnesota has a broad approach to tackling the opioid crisis, but policies are needed, using new harm reduction strategies, to address the existing gaps.
Methods: A prospective policy analysis was conducted using a public health and trauma informed approach using an extensive literature review to understand ways to improve health outcomes in PWID. A Center for Disease Control policy analysis framework was used comparing two policy options: safe consumption sites (SCS) and expansion of Narcan utilizing public health vending machines (PHVM).
Results: Both policy options were found to be beneficial, feasible, and cost-effective approaches which would increase enrollment in addiction treatment services and decrease healthcare costs to society. Implementation of a SCS pilot study and PHVM, into areas most affected by the epidemic, would reduce overdose deaths by increasing access and availability of life saving treatments. Three repeating themes appeared in the analysis: language, stigma, and research.
Conclusion: A multi-pronged approach can improve MDH opioid epidemic response. Innovative harm reduction policy inclusion and expansion is critical to reduce overdose deaths and must be on Minnesota lawmakers’ policy agenda. Inclusion of affected populations in policy development is vital. Properly framing the issue and use of first-person language is important. Further education and health communication programs are needed to reduce stigma among all stakeholders. Evaluation research of utilization patterns will strengthen evidence for the further expansion of new policy solutions.