ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA — A sudden spike in suspected heroin-related deaths is cause for alarm, and speaks to a bigger problem across the state. The Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and Office of Justice Programs (OJP) are warning the public about the recent overdoses. Narcotics investigators believe heroin circulating now, which may be laced with other narcotics, is responsible for at least seven deaths and more than a dozen non-fatal overdoses over the past few weeks.
Law enforcement agencies are reporting suspected heroin overdoses in nearly a dozen north central Minnesota communities, including Hibbing, Virginia, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Cass Lake, Dillworth, Marble, Beltrami County and Mille Lacs County.
To further understand the scope of the problem, the BCA is working through its Minnesota Fusion Center to gather information from local law enforcement agencies about heroin overdoses and BCA narcotics agents are working with agencies to try to identify the source of these drugs.
“BCA narcotics agents and our partner agencies are treating these cases as homicides,” said BCA Special Agent in Charge Sue Burggraf. “When we find these drug dealers we intend to charge them with third degree murder.”
Heroin is a statewide problem
The problem in north central Minnesota can be echoed in every community across the state. Narcotics agents are reporting a significant jump in heroin seizures and sales all across Minnesota.
Statistics just released by OJP show Heroin seizures by the Violent Crime Enforcement Teams (VCETs) in 2015 reached 18 pounds, a 125 percent increase since 2011.
“Drugs are killing people across the state, causing a big burden in society for adults and especially youth,” said Brian Marquart, OJP statewide gang and drug coordinator. “We need to come together and report any drug activity so we can get the drugs out of the hands of dealers.”
“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. “Prevention of addiction and inappropriate use of opioids requires a public health approach that includes looking at how we manage pain and community level factors that influence individual behaviors. The Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain announced by the CDC yesterday is a good example of an approach that can help us more effectively treat pain, promote health and reduce harms.”
Drug Seizures on the Rise
The VCETs, which are partially funded by OJP, continued to take drugs off the street at an alarming rate in 2015.
For the second straight year, VCET investigators seized a record amount of methamphetamine and marijuana concentrates continued to be seized at a record rate.