By Jennifer Mayerle


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is one county in Minnesota with the highest number of opioid prescriptions in the state.

Nearly one-and-a-half prescriptions are written for every person living in Wadena County. But the numbers do not tell the whole story.

Among the downtown Wadena stores is a print shop that belongs to Ron Greiman.

“You can talk to anybody on the street and they pretty much know your name,” Greiman said.

A fixture in the community, he and his wife were both prescribed opioids after surgery.

“She didn’t fill hers and I disposed of mine,” Greiman said.

Greiman thinks many of his neighbors are like them, which contributes to Wadena County having the highest opioid prescribing rate in Minnesota.

According to 2016 CDC numbers, doctors write 145 prescriptions for every 100 people.

On a chilly day, Kathy Wiirre shared a car accident led to her addiction to Vicodin.

“It’s a prescription, so when I took it, I took it as prescribed and went to work and the doctor just kept refilling it,” Wiirre said.

She has since straightened out her life, but now another family member suffers from opioid addiction.

“From my past experience, it’s a one-way street,” Wiirre said. “You usually end up in jail or dead unless you quit.”

Tri-County Health Care Chief Medical Officer Dr. Benjamin Hess says the numbers are not black and white. The hospital is based in Wadena County.

“We’re dealing with an elderly population, there’s a lot of poverty, there’s a lot of unemployment, and so those factors tend to drive higher rates of opioid prescription use,” Hess said. “People won’t always be able to afford some other ways to treat their pain.”

Since doctors learned how addictive opioids are, a grant has helped Tri-County institute ways to cut down on the number of prescriptions written. That includes pain contracts between provider and patient, a monitoring program and random drug screenings.

“I think diversion is always a big concern and the policies we’re looking at instituting will help cut down on that,” Hess said.

In three years, the county has reduced opioid prescriptions by 17 percent. Hess said the hospital is committed to doing its part.

“We are the ones responsible for the prescriptions out in the community, so we need to be responsible for cutting down on those prescriptions, when they’re not needed, when they’re unnecessary, when there’s better alternatives,” Hess said.

While the opioid prescription rate in Wadena County is high, the overdose rate is low. There have been five opioid overdoses from 2000 to 2016.

By comparison, Hennepin County has the highest number of opioid overdoses in the state, with 1,185 during the same time period. According to the CDC, the opioid prescription rate there is 38.6 prescriptions for every 100 people.

Click here to see where your county falls with opioid prescriptions.

Jennifer Mayerle