No heroin seen yet in Wadena area

Heroin has been responsible for seven deaths and more than a dozen non-fatal overdoses in north central Minnesota over the past few weeks and while heroin hasn't been seen yet in Wadena County, local law enforcement say it's just a matter of time.

Heroin has been responsible for seven deaths and more than a dozen non-fatal overdoses in north central Minnesota over the past few weeks and while heroin hasn't been seen yet in Wadena County, local law enforcement say it's just a matter of time.

Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr said that while heroin is making its way into west central Minnesota, the focus continues to be on methamphetamine and prescription drugs.

"Throughout our region, which is the West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, since 2015, there were only five heroin cases and they were in the reservation areas," Carr said.

He said that by no means does Wadena County think it's blind to heroin.

"We believe it's a matter of time before it reaches here so we're looking at things as a precaution," Carr said.


Wadena Police Sgt. Brandon Pearson agreed it's just a matter of time.

"We have not had any calls regarding heroin overdose fortunately," Pearson said. "But there's no doubt it's coming this way. We've seen some of the remnants of heroin use, though, with people passing through town with the possession of these Narcan kits."

Those kits can help alleviate the symptoms of opiate use and possibly save a life in the event of an overdose.

"Unfortunately, meth and prescription pills continue to be the big thing," Pearson said. "But when it happens, it's going to affect us all."

Pearson and Carr described heroin as being highly addictive and dangerous. They urge the public to be aware and report any suspicious behavior.

"People are not inconveniencing us by calling. They're actually helping us. If someone is acting abnormally there's probably something going on there and it helps us out to know," Pearson said.

Some of the indicators of heroin use are dry mouth, flushed face, constricted pupils, falling asleep, scratching, vomiting, hygiene and not eating properly, Carr said.

"It's a dangerous drug that could kill you even if you stop using it," he said. "The potency can be stronger than some people realize."


Wadena County has a dedicated drug investigator that has been making a dent in the drug trade, Carr said.

"Our drug investigator had a lot of cases last year and close to 50 arrests in 2015," Carr said. "We're definitely hitting Wadena County pretty heavily."

In 2016 so far, the county is investigating seven different drug cases and has had some arrests.

Heroin has been taken off the streets in Wadena County but it was part of a traffic stop.

"On a few occasions we have stopped heroin that has been passing through our area but this wasn't the final destination," Carr said.

Heroin use increasing in region

Bemidji is at the epicenter of a deadly heroin wave responsible for seven deaths and more than a dozen non-fatal overdoses over the past few weeks - evidence of an epidemic that law enforcement say has been intensifying over the past few years.

And now a new batch, possibly laced with a narcotic, is being blamed for making an already dangerous drug even more volatile. It was the impetus for a press conference with state and local law enforcement last week in Bemidji as they try to address a problem that is seemingly boundless.


"Drugs are killing people across our communities, and it's one of the biggest burdens on society, on our adults and especially on our children," said Brian Marquart, statewide drug and gang coordinator for the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs.

"We're seeing heroin overdoses in very small towns and very rural places, and we're seeing overdoses in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul," he said. "It doesn't matter your walk of life or where you live."

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp called it a "terrible epidemic that has struck the Beltrami County area and the region."

In Bemidji and its outskirts since Feb. 27, at least two people have died and at least three have been hospitalized after overdosing on heroin.

Law enforcement agencies are reporting suspected heroin overdoses in nearly a dozen north central Minnesota communities, including Hibbing, Virginia, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Cass Lake, Dilworth, Marble, Beltrami County and Mille Lacs County.

"These tragic heroin overdoses are unfortunately part of a larger statewide opioid drug abuse problem that often begins with inappropriate use of prescription opioid pain relievers," said Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger.

Fargo-Moorhead is seeing heroin as well.

Three overdose deaths in one week, possibly related to dangerous fentanyl-laced heroin, have prompted a coordinated area law enforcement response, with dire warnings to the public and a round of arrests of suspected suppliers.


Fargo Police Chief David Todd announced that arrests of four suspected heroin suppliers were made at a south Fargo hotel Sunday, suspects Todd believes are connected to at least one overdose death on Saturday morning.

He said there may be other people who received the same drugs in the area.

"It could be extremely dangerous," Todd said of the tainted narcotics. "I don't want to have any more deaths out there."

The suspected heroin could be laced with fentanyl, Todd said, which can be 40-50 times more potent than pure heroin and can be absorbed through the skin in some cases.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate used to treat severe pain, according to the National Institutes of Health, and, when mixed with street drugs in powder form, can amplify their potency and cause breathing problems, unconsciousness, coma or death.

Opiates can include heroin, opium, fentanyl, hydrocodone and other substances.

The arrests come after an alarming surge in overdose deaths in Fargo in just the past week. Police said investigators are still working to determine if the cases are related.

According to police, the overdose cases left three people dead and two injured in Fargo.


And over the past several days, seven people have been arrested for bringing heroin to northern Minnesota or its borders, including a Bemidji man who was caught Monday during a traffic stop in Itasca County.

This year, the state's Violent Crime Enforcement Teams have recovered 18 pounds of heroin, representing 82,000 doses and more than $1 million of product. The haul removed from the streets has already eclipsed the total from last year, and is a pound away from becoming the highest total over the past five years.

"We're treating these overdose deaths as homicide investigations," said Sue Burggraf, special agent in charge for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. "When we find those drug dealers, we intend to charge them with third-degree murder."


Kyle Farris and Kevin Cederstrom contributed to this story with additional information provided by Forum News Service reports.

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