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'I don't want to let people forget': Rep. Dave Baker to speak on opioid crisis, personal loss

Dave Baker is a Republican member of the Minnesota Legislature representing Willmar.
Minnesota House of Representatives
Aitkin High School graduate and State Rep. Dave Baker will speak about the opioid crisis at three Aitkin County high schools.

Aitkin County Public Health is hosting a series of community and school presentations to learn more about the opioid epidemic. Rep. Dave Baker, a Republican from Willmar, will speak about the loss of his 25-year-old son Dan to an opioid overdose in 2011.

AITKIN COUNTY — “I didn’t really understand what the disease was,” said Rep. Dave Baker in a KAXE Morning Show conversation about his 25-year-old son Dan, who died from an accidental opioid overdose in 2011.

Baker and his wife said they tried everything with their son.

“We gave him the tough love, the tender love, the 'you gotta leave the house' kind of thing,” Baker said. He said he did not understand at the time that substance use disorder is a disease, and their son was sick.

Baker will host three community presentations and discussions on the opioid epidemic in Aitkin County Oct. 3-5.

He will share his story and discuss ongoing efforts to combat the crisis 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at the McGregor High School Auditorium and 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Aitkin High School Auditorium. On Thursday, he’ll speak at 9 a.m. at Hill City High School.

These community presentations are free and open to the public.

For Baker’s son, addiction started with prescription pills for pain. Baker has turned his family’s grief into a mission and a foundation.

“I love talking about Dan,” he said. “As a dad, I don’t want to let people forget Dan.”

Opioid epidemic has changed

When asked about the change in opioids since the loss of his son, Baker said, “It's not overprescribing, but it's people that got a taste of it or can't get rid of it. They can so easily find it.”

He described the new fentanyl as a new poisoning. "But we still need to talk about it because people don't know that just taking a pill isn't like putting a needle in your arm.”

In his talks to educate the community, Baker said he is hoping people understand the candy-like pills are dangerous.

“(Say you're) with friends or cramming for a college exam and you think taking a pill to kind of keep you up a little bit longer. But a buddy or a pal gave it to you and you don't know exactly where it came from," Baker said.

Opioids are more dangerous than ever, according to Baker.

“It's a world right now that you can't trust anything outside of a pill bottle with your name on it."

If you go

Aitkin County Public Health is hosting the series of community and school presentations with Baker for the public to learn more about the opioid epidemic.

  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at McGregor High School.
  • 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, at Aitkin High School.
  • 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, Hill City High School.

Each event is open to the public, and the McGregor and Aitkin presentations include a free community meal, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.