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Montevideo woman's crusade against opioid addiction leads to State of the Union

Shelly Elkington, left, will attend the State of the Union as the guest of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The two have been working to raise awareness of opioid addiction after Elkington's daughter died in 2015. Elkington and Montevideo Police Officer Carmen Beninga, right, display a Narcan kit in this January 2016 file photo. Elkington worked with the Montevideo Police Department to implement officers' usage of the drug which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. (Tribune file photo)

MONTEVIDEO — When President Donald Trump gives his first State of the Union address Jan. 30 in the United States Capitol, Shelly Elkington of Montevideo will be in the gallery as a guest of Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"I must say I was speechless after the invite," Elkington said, adding Klobuchar's staff was grateful she accepted.

The two have been working together for the past two years to increase awareness about the ongoing opioid addiction crisis gripping the country, along with finding ways to help stop it.

"We are always trying to keep the issue relevant and seek out solutions," Elkington said.

She is the mother of Casey Jo Elkington, who died at the age of 26 in 2015 following a battle with opioid addiction. A few months after her daughter's death, Elkington attended a roundtable event where she met Klobuchar. The partnership took off from there.

"We've been doing some events together. She tells Casey's story very, very well," Elkington said.

She never thought her work would lead to the State of the Union though.

"I am extremely honored to be her guest," Elkington said. "I completely respect the sanctity of that event and what it means."

In a news release announcing the accepted invitation, Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the opioid crisis is ending too many lives too soon.

"That's why the work Shelly is doing, sharing her daughter's story, is so important in drawing much needed attention to the opioid epidemic and putting a human face on the toll it is taking on communities across the country," Klobuchar said. "I'm honored to have her as my guest and hope her attendance highlights the need for additional resources to combat this crisis."

Since her daughter's death, Elkington has worked tirelessly. She became an advocate for Steve's Law, which allows emergency responders and police to carry and administer Narcan, which can reverse the effect of an opioid overdose. After Elkington contacted the Montevideo police chief about it, the Montevideo Police Department became one of the first rural departments to begin carrying the drug and it helped save the life of one individual in September 2016.

Elkington is also working with Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, to get legislation passed that will provide support and funding throughout the state for opioid addiction solutions geared toward each individual community.

"To watch this bipartisan effort on a state level is encouraging," Elkington said. "We are getting there."

Elkington said the opioid crisis still needs to be in the forefront of national attention.

"Putting the focus back on drug addiction is very important," she said.

This week the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office announced there were 162 opioid-related deaths in the county last year, close to a 50 percent increase over two years. Nationwide there are close to 174 drug overdose deaths per day with opioids accounting for 116 of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While the current numbers can be sobering, Elkington knows the work she and others, including Klobuchar, are doing is making a difference.

"I do know we've saved a lot of lives in the past few years," Elkington said.

But there is still work to be done. And maybe seeing a face at the State of the Union who has seen what opioids can do to a family will bring more people on board to battle the crisis.

"I represent everyone who has gone through this," Elkington said.