After more than a year of planning, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has approved a new drug court on the White Earth Indian reservation.
Tribal and county officials hope the program will help ease longstanding drug problems in the area.
Over the last four years, there were 320 major drug cases filed in Mahnomen County, and on White Earth tribal lands. That's more than six times as many as neighboring counties, with larger populations.
Late last year, the tribal government declared a public health crises, after seven drug overdoses were reported in just 48 hours.
In the new drug court — officially called the White Earth Tribal and Mahnomen County Healing to Wellness Drug Court — district court and tribal judges will work with prosecutors, public defenders, and social workers to keep felony offenders from the drugs that got them in trouble to begin with.
"Our whole community is seeing firsthand the devastation caused by drug abuse," said District Judge Anne Rasmusson, who will work with the drug court. "We believe this program can be an important part of our community-wide response to this epidemic."
There are similar drug courts in other Minnesota counties, which help lower the rates of reoffending, according to the state judicial branch.