New positions created to combat the opioid epidemic

January 30, 2019

 Pine County will be seeing a new face to help strengthen and expand existing community efforts focused on addressing the opioid epidemic. Three new opioid prevention positions have been created and filled by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development in partnership with Community Vitality and The College of Pharmacy at UMD, and one of the positions will office in Pine County. The positions are supported by a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Grant (SAMHSA).


Briana Michels will join the team as a community educator and will be based in the Pine County Extension Office located at the Pine County Courthouse. Susan Beaulieu will be a community educator based in the office at the Extension Regional Office in Brainerd. Tawny Smith-Savage will join the team as a Community Coordinator and will be based in the Extension Regional Office at the Cloquet Forestry Center.


Broadly, the project is intended to facilitate engagement with rural Minnesota counties and tribal communities that suffer a disproportionate burden from the opioid crisis. The focus of the project is to develop and highlight community-based solutions to the opioid crisis and community capacity building with partners most impacted by the opioid crisis in rural Minnesota.

More specifically, the community educators and coordinator will help provide a menu of in-person and on-line evidence-based technical assistance, training and education options that communities can draw from to develop local positive recovery capital (a theory describing the different kinds of resources that help people to recover from addiction to alcohol or other drugs).

“Our project team is committed to the health and well-being of American Indian families and communities to help find useful solutions and educational approaches to end opioid addiction,” said Program Leader in Family Resiliency at the University of Minnesota’s Extension, Mary Jo Katras, PhD.

Jennifer Garbow, family resiliency extension educator, added, “This is a new project that brings together a team that includes extension staff, public health agencies, community members, and healthcare professionals who are guided by the 7 Generation Plan, elders and the wisdom of the tribal community.”

University of Minnesota Assistant Professor in the College of Pharmacy, Laura Palombi, Pharm. D., said of the project, “The approach of this project is to collectively build on existing partnerships with local, regional, state, and national agencies to enhance opioid prevention efforts and build systems and supports to reduce overdoses and expand understanding and options for treatment.”


Michels has been a Pine County resident all her life and is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. She began working at Grand Casino Hinckley as a risk and safety specialist where she saw the major issues facing her community and was able to understand the needs in the area. She has built relationships and worked closely with Pine County Health and Human Services as well as many other state and local agencies. Michels is a part of the Pine County Wellness Advisory Board and also a part of the host committee with the Region 7E Adult Mental Health program for “Community Conversations”. Her past experience volunteering on the Pine City Fire Department and as an EMT for over 14 years is where her love for her community started. She says she is passionate about the need to heal the American Indian community and has been trained to facilitate historical trauma healing classes. Outside of work, Michels is Boxing Commissioner for the Mille Lacs Band Department of Athletic Regulation. She is passionate about wellness and is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She said she is excited for this new challenge and opportunity to make a difference. Words that she lives by are “be the change you want to see in the world.”


Beaulieu is Anishinabe from the Red Lake Nation and has been working with tribal communities for the past 12 years in a variety of capacities including project development, program education, development coaching and facilitation. She most recently served as the Director of Tribal Projects at Minnesota Communities Caring for Children (MCCC) where she developed and implemented the Tribal N.E.A.R. (Neurobiology, Epigenetics, ACEs [adverse childhood experiences] & Resiliency) Sciences and Community Wisdom Project. Beaulieu is pursuing her PhD in Social and Administrative Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota-College of Pharmacy. She received her Master’s in Public Policy degree with a focus on nonprofit management and leadership from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute in 2007 and completed coursework in teaching and learning from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Beaulieu is a 2016 Bush Leadership Fellow focusing on generating healing and wellbeing at the individual and collective levels.


Smith-Savage has been a social worker for 19 years. In 2000, Smith-Savage graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities School of Social Work. She is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and licensed clinical social worker. She teaches at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College as an adjunct professor and continues to develop her professional goals with interest in research and community outreach. Her employment has primarily been within the addiction and mental health fields. Smith-Savage has held positions with White Earth Behavioral Health in Duluth, Fond du Lac Human Services and Mashkawisen Treatment Center. She co-owns Spirit Lake Native Farms, which is on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Sawyer, Minn. located in Carlton County. Her family farm produces pure maple syrup and custom finishes wild rice each season. In 2018, Smith-Savage was recognized by the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) as a leader and phenomenal woman of color.

Michels, Beaulieu and Smith-Savage began their first day on the job Tuesday.

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