Heroin crisis strains resources at Northland treatment centers

By KBJR News 1

May 8, 2014 Updated May 8, 2014 at 6:14 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)--- The high profile arrest of more than 40 people in St Louis County on heroin charges in the last month is an indication of the scope of the heroin crisis in the Northland.

Police say the dealers they are taking off the streets sell to an ever growing clientele...many of whom are now addicts seeking help.

Now the crisis is straining resources at treatment centers.

"It's certainly an epidemic. We've seen an explosion of heroin and it's reflecting the trends across the United States," said Paul Winterscheidt, a Narcotics Investigator with the Superior Police Department.

Police report that heroin overdoses have led to at least one death each month in Douglas County over the past year. St. Louis County has also seen a steady increase in deaths.

Meanwhile, the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction has skyrocketed.

Nearly five years ago, sixteen percent of people in drug treatment programs in St Louis County were being treated for opioid abuse.

That number has now jumped to 26 percent.

"More startling is that in St Louis County the number of individuals referred for treatment with primary opiates last year was about close to 800 which is the same as Ramsey County which contains St. Paul," said Gary Olson, CEO of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Duluth.

But too often, Olsen says, gaining access to treatment is a difficult process...

"If somebody shows up today at the center asking for treatment it's a week to a month before we can get them in to any kind of a program," said Olson.

Obstacles such as assessments, no open beds and waiting lists are making it harder for users. The Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center says they lose about 40 percent of patients during the waiting period. Making matters worse, Olsen says, they were unprepared for the influx of heroin addicts.

"When this crisis is happening, it's just overwhelming the system and we just don't have the resources to really cope with it yet," said Olson.

Families unable to access treatment centers, are turning to law enforcement for help.

"People will call me and call my partners and tell us that their loved ones are using heroin or using methamphetamine and they want us to arrest them because they can't find any other way to get the people they love off of this stuff.," said Olson.

Hoping to break the grip of addiction, no matter the cost.

The Minnesota House and Senate passed a bill yesterday giving a drug to first responders and law enforcement to counteract overdoses, and giving immunity to those who call 911 in an overdose situation.

Written and posted to the web by Raeanna Marnati