All Things Considered

New state office for addiction and recovery services gets its leader

Jeremy Drucker steps into the role as the office's first director

Minnesota Capitol building is shown
The Minnesota Capitol building is shown on July 26 in St. Paul.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Lawmakers left the Capitol this spring with agreements to pump more than $200 million into addiction and recovery support over the next four years.

Some of that money will go to preventing overdose deaths, some of it to recovery services.

Interwoven into this new network of funding and programming is the state's Addiction and Recovery Director — a new role that reports directly to Gov. Tim Walz on the state of Minnesota's addiction services.

In this new position is Jeremy Drucker who shared more about the job and its goals with MPR News reporter Catharine Richert.

For the full conversation, click play on the audio player above or read the transcript below. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the state right now in addiction and recovery?

The challenges posed by fentanyl, in particular. It's really everywhere. It's 50 times more powerful than heroin. The [Drug Enforcement Agency] estimates that 60 percent of counterfeit fentanyl pills contain a potentially lethal dose, and overdoses are becoming much more likely and common.

More and more, other substances, too, are being cut with fentanyl without people knowing and the number of stories of people who unwittingly ingested fentanyl and died are really heartbreaking.

In the press release announcing your appointment, Gov. Tim Walz said that you'd be working across state departments to break down silos in addiction services. So far, what do you see as some of the barriers to coordinating those services?

I think a lot of the barriers that we see are just making sure that we're getting everyone on the same page in terms of how we are addressing specific populations.

For example, a really important one is individuals who are experiencing incarceration or involved in the justice system. Over the last seven years when we look at the overdose data, you see that one in five overdoses are from an individual that was recently released from a correctional institution. So, how can we really make sure that individuals who are experiencing incarceration are getting good treatment and that when they're leaving, they're heading back into healthy recovery ecosystems.

Another big challenge I would say, too, is we have a very complicated human services system. I think a good example is of the opioid settlements: 25 percent of those settlement dollars are going to the state, 75 percent of them are going to counties and local governments. So, making sure that the state and the 87 different counties are spending those dollars in a complementary way, not duplicating efforts, and not unintentionally leaving gaps in service is really important.

My role in this is to really make sure that we are focused on mitigating any of the unintended consequences that might come from adult use cannabis, particularly as it pertains to children.

The adult use cannabis bill that passed contained a lot of funding for local public health boards and tribes. It also created a lot of funding for prevention in schools, and then also additional treatment, recovery and prevention grants. So, I think those dollars are part of a recognition that there may be unintended consequences, and we're going to need funds to help address those.

You are a person who is in long term recovery. How has that experience shaped how you approach this job?

As a person in long term recovery, the stigma out there around substance use is still incredibly great. Too many people still treat substance use as a moral failing or not the disease that it is. That stigma permeates our entire system and prevents people from getting the help they need or treated in the way you would be treated if you had a different illness. It took until 2008 for mental health and substance use to be given parity with physical health when it comes to insurance regulations.

So, I think we still have a really long way to go. But what I bring to this role and what my recovery brings to this role is an understanding that substance use disorder is a health care issue — but also, people can and do recover.

There are millions of people in the United States right now who are living happy, fulfilling, productive lives who experience substance use disorder or are in recovery. So, recovery is possible. It happens and it really happens when people are given the resources they need to achieve that.