As USDA Prepares to Host Nationwide Roundtables, Sen. Smith Calls for Minnesota Voices to be Heard

U.S. Senator Tina Smith is continuing her push to address the opioid epidemic by calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to host a rural opioid misuse roundtable in Minnesota. This comes after introducing a bill last week to help tribes across the country access the resources they need to address mental health and substance use disorders.

Earlier this month, the USDA announced it will be holding a series of monthly meetings on opioids in Pennsylvania, Utah, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Maine. Sen. Smith understands the toll the opioid and drug overdose epidemic is having on families and rural communities across Minnesota, and that’s why she’s reached out to the USDA office of Rural Development and invited them to host a meeting in the state. Three Minnesota tribes have declared public health emergencies, and large numbers of the farming community are also affected by opioid misuse.

“The opioid epidemic has hit rural communities across this country hard—and rural Minnesota is no exception,” wrote Sen. Smith in her letter to the USDA. “That’s why I was glad to see that the USDA Office of Rural Development is hosting roundtable discussions on rural opioid misuse across the country. 

“[I] invite you to come to Minnesota and hear from tribal members, farmers, and others whose communities have been hit hard by this epidemic. At a roundtable in Minnesota, you will hear about the challenges rural Minnesotans face and the innovative work that is happening as communities step up to combat addiction and support families hurt by this crisis.”

Since joining the Senate, Sen. Smith has been actively working to combat the opioid epidemic. In addition to introducing the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act last week, Sen. Smith has cosponsored the Opioid Response Enhancement Act and the “Penny-a-Pill” bill, joined three previous Senate Health Committee hearings on the opioid epidemic, attended two members-only roundtables with Senate Health Committee colleagues, and convened an opioids roundtable in Minnesota.

You can read a copy of the letter Sen. Smith sent to Assistant Secretary Anne Hazlett here or below:

Ms. Anne Hazlett
Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW,
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Assistant Secretary Hazlett:

The opioid epidemic has hit rural communities across this country hard—and rural Minnesota is
no exception. That's why I was glad to see that the USDA Office of Rural Development is
hosting roundtable discussions on rural opioid misuse across the country.

I enjoyed meeting with you on March 13 and appreciated the opportunity to discuss how we
can better address the opioid and drug overdose epidemic in Minnesota. I write today to invite
you to come to Minnesota and hear from tribal members, farmers, and others whose communities
have been hit hard by this epidemic. At a roundtable in Minnesota, you will hear about the
challenges rural Minnesotans face and the innovative work that is happening as communities
step up to combat addiction and support families hurt by this crisis.

The opioid and drug overdose epidemic is devastating families and it does not appear to be
letting up. In 2016, 376 people died opioid-related deaths in Minnesota, which was a 12%
increase from 2015. The crisis has disproportionately impacted Native American communities
and, as a result, at least three of Minnesota tribes have declared public health emergencies.

Leaders in Minnesota's farming community are also combatting opioid abuse. As you know,
74% of farmers across the U.S. have been directly affected by opioid abuse, and three out of four
farmers say someone in their community could easily access opioids.

Rural issues, including the opioid epidemic, are a top priority for me. That's why I convene a
Farm Bill working group with leaders in Minnesota's agriculture community and, as Lieutenant
Governor, helped convene a Tribal Opioid Summit. I am eager to bring together leaders from
rural Minnesota to discuss how the federal government can better support rural communities.

Thank you for your work on this critical issue. I look forward to partnering with the USDA to
make sure rural communities have the resources they need to combat this epidemic.

Sincerely,

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