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Health care 'not completely innocent' in addiction battle

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One woman teared up while sharing a testimonial about how drug and alcohol addiction led to her being raped after a high school party.

A man shared his story about how addiction led him to becoming a drug dealer with a lengthy criminal record.

A Rochester couple detailed an opiate addiction that killed their son in 2014.

About 80 people — concerned parents, recovering addicts, advocates, engaged citizens and a judge — listened with anguish as the stories unfolded Thursday night at John Adams Middle School. Thursday's community forum was the first of two hosted by Mn Adult & Teen Challenge. A second "Know the Truth" forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at John Marshall High School.

Local officials began the night by detailing the dangers associated with drug and alcohol addiction. That set the stage for the personal testimonials.

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Mayo Clinic physician Casey Clements said doctors must shoulder some of the blame for the nation's rising addiction problem.

"I will point the finger at the medical community a little bit," Clements said. "We are not completely innocent in this process as we move forward."

The United States is home to roughly 5 percent of the world's population, but consumes about 75 percent of its medication, according to Adam Pederson, of Mn Adult & Teen Challenge.

There were 47,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year. Half of those deaths were caused by heroin and other opiates. Clements says that represents a 4,000 percent increase compared to 2000. He also claims that about 80 percent of heroin users started using after getting addicted to prescription pills.

With almost two months left in the year, Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem says drug cases are already up 60 percent compared to 2015. Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson says cocaine sells for roughly 10 times more in affluent Olmsted County than it does in Chicago, making this a targeted area for outside dealers.

Paul Wilson, supervisor of Rochester Police Department's Narcotics Unit, recently wrapped up an 18-month heroin investigation that included federal agencies and links to Chicago. Rather than backslapping, his unit immediately began another coordinated investigation involving a methamphetamine ring operating across the region.

These issues aren't unique to Rochester or Southeast Minnesota, but Clements contends that many of these societal issues can be traced back to patients being overprescribed by their doctors.

"We all go into medicine to help people. We want to alleviate suffering. That's part of our calling," Clements said. "The (hard) part of medicine is when a patient comes to us and the needs of the patient aren't the same as the wants of the patient. … We in the medical community need to learn to say no in the right way."

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There is a coordinated effort to stem drug and alcohol addiction, but resources are being overwhelmed by rising demand. Eleven local agencies had information booths set up outside the forum and were waiting to answer questions, but they've been set up in response to the problem.

Thursday's forum was the 25th such event that Pederson has hosted across Minnesota this year. Pederson's crew addressed seven classes at Mayo High School earlier in the day and is planning to do the same at Century in the coming weeks.

"A dollar spent on prevention can save over $18 on future costs," Pederson said. "But very little funding is put forth to try to prevent (addiction) and that's what tonight is about.

"No one person is going to solve this. No one entity or organization is going to fix this. We have to do this together."

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