Heitkamp gathers Dickinson community members to discuss battling opioid epidemic

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BISMARCK, N.D. In the height of the oil boom in 2013, the opioid epidemic had just started to take hold in North Dakota with 20 deaths that year, according to the Center for Disease control.

Just two years later, those deaths tripled.

The president of CHI St. Alexius says the Dickinson hospital still seeing an increase in overdoses.

Tears, as a mother describes finding her son dead after coming home from school and going to bed with drugs in his system.

"Dickinson, it's here and it's here in very powerful ways," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

Mark Schaefer knows that pain all too well. Two of his brothers dealt with addiction issues, inspiring him to help others.

"People are coming into us, they've usually reached the point where they're choosing to come in for treatment because, and the statement they often use is, 'I just can't keep doing this. I can't live like this,'" said Schaefer, North Dakota Community Medical Services.

Law enforcement officials say they can't arrest their way out of this issue.

"Usually in a lot of cases, you need three agencies dealing with the same person at the same time and for us out here, mental health services and even addiction services are short," said Capt. David Wilkie, Dickinson Police Department.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp brought together health care, law enforcement and faith leaders to try to see how those resources could be better utilized.

Heitkamp said: "It's educational for me because then we find out what are the needs in the community. Where's the community in terms of the development of their plan and then how can we help?"

Community members who came to listen pressed the importance of the availability of Narcan, a drug that can reverse overdoses.

Heitkamp was also critical of the American Health Care Act which would cut Medicaid by 880 million dollars over the next 10 years according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. 70 percent of those seeking addiction services at CHI Dickinson are Medicaid eligible, according to hospital officials.