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Five weekend heroin overdoses in Duluth, one fatal

DULUTH, Minn. - The popularity and purity of heroin being sold on Duluth's streets apparently is taking a toll.

On Monday, Duluth police announced that they responded to the reports of five overdoses Friday through Sunday, with a 60-year-old East Hillside man dying of what appears to be an overdose.

The victim's name won't be released until relatives have been notified.

Duluth police Lt. Steve Stracek said medical examiner's reports haven't been completed so he can't say for sure that the man died from a heroin overdose, "but there were strong indications of heroin use at those scenes so we have every reason to believe that this was related to illegal heroin use,'' he said.

Stracek said all five of the overdoses required hospitalization, and the victims were initially unresponsive to patrol officers who responded to the scenes.

Just last month, the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force arrested 22 people for alleged illegal heroin dealing in the Twin Ports area.

"Operation Brownstone" -- named after brown powder heroin, the type most seen in the Twin Ports -- was a concentrated effort by the task force; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; and Duluth police to combat the increase in heroin trafficking and abuse being seen here.

Last week, Minneapolis police busted a heroin ring operating in the Twin Cities that reportedly was being supplied by a Mexican crime organization operating out of Chicago. The heroin it was selling was determined to be 70 percent to 90 percent pure.

"Unlike prescription drugs, when you buy a gram of heroin or half gram of heroin, you don't know what you are getting,'' Stracek said. "Drugs are cut down with different products to increase the volume so drug dealers make more money, obviously. Today, you might buy heroin that's 5 or 10 percent pure. That same dealer may come to you the next day and have something that is 30 or 40 percent pure and if your system is used to processing 3 or 4 or 5 percent pure heroin and all of a sudden you throw in 30 or 50 percent, you're going to overdose because your body just can't handle that quantity."

Heroin is selling on the street in Duluth for $300 to $500 a gram, Stracek said, with most users using between a quarter- to a half-gram a day. Users are in no shape to hold a job and police are seeing a spike in property crimes as users seek money and stolen items to support their habits.

Stracek said it's difficult to prosecute someone as supplying the specific illegal drug that causes death. "You've got to consider that it may not simply be the sole factor that contributes to the death,'' he said. "They may take heroin at 4 o'clock and at 5 o'clock they may take methamphetamine or alcohol or some other prescription drug that actually causes the death. Or maybe there's a previous medical condition that ultimately takes their life. So it's really difficult to pin it down always to just heroin being the cause of death."

Police ask that anyone with information related to illegal drug activity call the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force at (218) 730-5750.