By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, WRIGHT COUNTY, MN As children grow up, they oftentimes face a series of changes and challenges that are different from when their parents were younger.
To help parents and community members become more aware of what these challenges/issues might be, the Dassel-Cokato and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school districts hosted a community symposium in April, which focused on five main topics of interest: internet and cell phone safety; heroin, opioid, and other drugs; healthy relationships; sex trafficking; and depression, anxiety, and mental health.
An article on internet and cell phone safety appeared in the May 4 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch.
An article on the depression, anxiety, and mental health session appeared in the May 11 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch.
The opioid session was led by Wright County attorney Tom Kelly, who has been working with the Wright County Attorney’s Office since 1984. He was chief of the criminal division from 1990 to 1998, and was elected county attorney in the fall of 1998.
“Every other day, there seems to be another news story on the opioid epidemic,” Kelly stated, adding that the US Department of Health and Human Services declared the epidemic to be a public health emergency.
Opioids include substances such as prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids (fentanyl and carfentanil).
Kelly shared that in 2017, Minnesota law enforcement seized more than 240,000 prescription pills, 625 pounds of meth, 36 pounds of cocaine, 42 pounds of heroin, and 4,323 pounds of marijuana.
On a national scale, the US experienced more than 42,000 deaths in 2016 due to opioid overdoses, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services .
Minnesota contributed 395 of those deaths. This does not include the additional 142 deaths attributed to heroin usage, which is part of the opioids family.
“Criminal cases stemming from addiction to controlled substances, including opioids, and the deaths caused by those substances, have affected every community in Wright County,” stated Wright County Sergeant Ryan Ferguson.
Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze commented that Meeker County is not dealing with the same level of opioid-related issues compared to the rest of the state.
“Methamphetamine is still king in our county, and we are seizing large quantities about a pound and a half [during] each of the past two years,” he stated.
When did it start?
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the opioid epidemic dates back to the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies made assurance that patients could not become addicted to opioid pain relievers.
As a result, health care providers started distributing opioids at a high rate, which led to several cases of diversion and misuse.
More than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed in the US daily, and 3,900 people start non-medical use of prescription opioids at the same rate.
Prescription opioid misuse is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cost the US $78.5 billion each year between health care costs, lost productivity, criminal justice involvement, and addiction treatment.
Wright County was ranked eighth in the state for the highest number of opioid prescriptions in 2016.
Last year, Wright County prescribed more opioid prescriptions than there are residents within the county, according to Kelly.
What starts as opioids often ends with heroin
Because most opioid addictions start with a prescription, where do the users turn when the bottle runs empty?
Oftentimes, the answer is heroin.
“They’re not bad [people],” Kelly commented. “They’re just addicted; they’re just trying not to feel sick [from withdrawal].”
Kelly stated that abused prescription pain medications are the leading cause of heroin addictions, with a 4-out-of-5 track record.
“Sadly, the heroin we are seeing is laced with fentanyl and carfentanil,” said Kelly, “and that stuff will kill you.”
To give an idea of how potent these substances are, Kelly shared that fentanyl is 80 percent stronger and carfentanil is 10,000 percent stronger than morphine.
“Just two milligrams [of carfentanil] will knock a 2,000-pound elephant on its [behind], and the quantity that is deadly to humans is the size of a grain of salt,” he stated.
Wright County Medical Examiner Dr. Quinn Strobbel reported, in his 2017 annual report, that seven people died in Wright County related to the opiod/heroin epidemic.
Four more deaths have already been reported for 2018, each of them involving fentanyl/carfentanil-laced heroin.
“I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Kelly commented. “How many more young lives will be loss to this epidemic? We can’t be silent anymore. We have to tackle this epidemic head-on.”
Wright County files lawsuits
To help regain some of the costs that have gone toward dealing with opioid-related cases within its territory, Kelly said Wright County has agreed to file lawsuits against large medical supplement manufacturers and distributors.
The suits aim to put an end to “deceptive marketing and negligent distribution” in Minnesota, according to Kelly.
McKesson, a pharmaceutical distributor, has already been fined $150 million for violating the Controlled Substance Act.
“Only problem is they make that in a week,” Kelly commented.
“We can’t arrest and prosecute our way out of this crisis,” Kelly added. “It has to be education, treatment, and prevention.”