Undercover agents talk about opioids
The main driver of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. is opioids, both prescription and illicit. In fact, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 42,000 deaths across the country in 2016. This is five times higher than in 1999.
But what about locally, how is the opioid epidemic closer to home?
In Minnesota in 2016, there were 672 opioid overdose deaths. Douglas County contributed to that total with one fatal opioid overdose in 2016, according to two undercover agents with the West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. There was at least one fatal overdose in Douglas County in 2017, as well.
The agents — a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and an officer with the Alexandria Police Department — wish to remain unidentified due to the nature of their jobs.
"Yes, there were two fatalities in this county," the deputy said. "But for the non-fatal overdoses, we couldn't even put a number on it."
The agents did provide a bit of good news, however, in that they are seeing fewer prescription pill opioids on the streets than in the past few years. They attributed this to the drop-off program that makes secure disposal containers available at Osakis City Hall, in the lobbies of both the Alexandria Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, as well as at Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management.
"The drop-off program has been effective," the deputy said, explaining that it is important for anyone with any kind of prescriptions to take part in the program so leftover medications aren't getting in the wrong hands. By using the drop-off sites, leftover medications can be disposed of properly, they said.
Both agents say they feel there is a need for prescription opioids, but said there could be stricter rules.
"There is a need and a purpose, but once you step beyond that need by taking four pills instead of two, that's when trouble can happen," the police officer said.
The agents said that even though they are seeing fewer prescription opioids, they are still seeing plenty of other opioids including heroin and illegally made synthetic fentanyl. Fentanyl is an opioid pain reliever that can be prescribed, especially for cancer patients, and it is much more powerful than other prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, found in the prescription drug OxyContin, or hydrocodone, found in Vicodin.
The majority of heroin and fentanyl seen in this area comes from the Twin Cities although some of it comes from Chicago or Michigan, the agents said. It is usually in powder form, which is broken down from the rock form. A gram, which is roughly the size of a sugar packet, sells on average in this area for about $250.
The agents said it is "real easy" to spend about $40 per day to support a habit.
Here's how to help
The drug task force agents encourage the public to be aware and cognizant of their surroundings. For example, the deputy said, it's helpful when motorists report poor driving behaviors or when they spot someone slumped over the wheel.
For parents, the police officer said to be aware of changes in behavior or if a child comes down with flu-like symptoms, but is not physically sick. He also said to watch for any unexplained changes in appearance or rapid weight loss and if a child has a job, but never any money.
"There could also be changes in the people or friends your children hang around," the officer said. "Be aware and be involved and notice if there is anything out of the ordinary."
The agents said to call law enforcement if drug use is suspected. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office can be reached at 320-762-8151.