Solutions at the Grassroots: empowering Minnesotans to end addiction | University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Laura Palombi, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, has a conversation with a community partner

Solutions at the Grassroots: empowering Minnesotans to end addiction

As the addiction crisis touches every corner of our state, U of M experts are partnering with Minnesotans to create new ways to fight opioid use disorders and substance use disorders. These grassroots solutions empower families and communities to end addiction.

Empowering Caregivers to Protect Children from Addiction

Lucien Gonzalez, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, speaks with a patient
A woman doctor hands medicine to a teen-aged girl
A woman doctor speaks to a teen-aged patient

Empowering caregivers to protect children from the harms of substance use

Substance use disorders are viewed as an adult problem, but they most often begin in childhood or adolescence, says Lucien Gonzalez, a pediatric addiction medicine expert at the University of Minnesota.

“The younger a person is when they start substance use, the more likely they are to be experiencing other mental health symptoms," he says. “And the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder.”

Factors such as experiencing poverty, belonging to certain ethnic groups, or to marginalized groups such as gender nonconforming youth, contribute to increased risk of early substance use or barriers to receiving necessary services.

Pediatricians are uniquely positioned to help children and families, Gonzalez says.

“Besides connecting kids to mental health resources, pediatricians can educate caregivers and help them decide how to approach this topic before their child is old enough to use.”

Empowering Communities to Fight Addiction

Laura Palombi, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, walks through a courtyard with a group of four community partners.
A photo of a park and a lift bridge in Duluth, Minnesota
A woman speaks to a community group

St. Louis County in northeastern Minnesota—with its 27 cities, 72 townships, 75 unorganized townships, and portions of two Indian reservations—has the highest opioid overdose death rate in Minnesota.

Laura Palombi, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, Duluth, is empowering Duluth area communities to end addiction.

She and other local healthcare experts are organizing focused interventions. They're training pharmacists and opioid prescribers - doctors, dentists, nurses, and other practitioners - and partnering with communities to build awareness.

One of Palombi’s focus areas is Drug Court: a highly effective program centered on long-term treatment—rather than punishment—to break the addiction cycle. “It’s remarkable to see how our participants have transformed their lives,” she says. “It’s a ripple effect.”

The ripple effect of Palombi’s work is felt throughout northeastern Minnesota, says Marcia Gurno, a social worker in St. Louis County. “Dr. Palombi’s tireless efforts … will most certainly lead to a decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths,” she says.

On Grassroots Solutions

"It is not someone else's responsibility. It is our responsibility. We need to show up for children—all of them." —Lucien Gonzalez

"The needs and strengths of each community are unique. Solutions to the opioid crisis will look different for each community." —Laura Palombi

Meet the Researchers

Laura Palombi
Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy in Duluth
Lucien Gonzalez
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Medical School
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities