The University of Minnesota has been at the forefront of the opioid crisis through research and programming focused upon areas including addiction and neurosciences.

Now, two federal grants are helping the University collaborate with rural partners to focus on strengthening community resources to prevent addiction and create healthy environments for those working toward recovery.  

The project, A Community Capacity Building Approach to Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Rural Counties Across Minnesota, results from two federal grants awarded to University of Minnesota Extension and the College of Pharmacy. For nearly two years, staff from both colleges will collaborate with community partners in Aitkin, Pine and Itasca counties as well as northern St. Louis County and the Bois Forte and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.   

“The stigma attached to addiction is huge; some estimates state that up to 80 percent of people with substance abuse disorders will never receive help,” said Laura Palombi, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and pharmaceutical sciences and a co-leader of the university effort. “Working with public health partners, we’re seeking to find ways to not only prevent substance abuse disorders and increase access to treatment, but also support communities as they strenthen their ability to work with individuals in recovery.”

To help build community strengths, the University will work with communities to provide education and resources in parenting, housing, financial capability, mental health and nutrition.

Addiction gives rise to challenges in parenting, health and nutrition and family separation, among others, said Extension family resiliency program leader and project co-leader Mary Jo Katras. The University’s efforts seek to build upon what’s already working in the northern Minnesota communities.

“There are good things going on already, so we’re not recreating the wheel,” Katras said. “We’re helping build the assets in ways that can be replicated elsewhere, too.”

The grant funding has made several steps possible, including creation of an American Indian resource and resiliency team in Extension: community educator Briana Michels, based in Pine County; community educator Susan Beaulieu, based in the Extension regional office in Brainerd; and Tawny Smith-Savage, community coordinator, based in the Extension regional office in Cloquet. Extension educator Lori Rothstein will work with communities to build leadership and develop innovative approaches to addressing the opioid crisis in rural areas.   

Community forums, in-person and online education and a prevention summit are also being planned. To learn more about the programs, visit

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