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'War on Drugs' topic of Akeley forum

Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hanson and Hubbard County officials will be answering questions and providing information at forum on drugs at 7 p.m. March 3 at the Akeley Regional Community Center. (Lori Skarpness/Enterprise)

Drug dealers are not welcome in Hubbard County. That is the message of a countywide town hall forum at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 3 at the Akeley Regional Community Center gymnasium.

The "Community Discussion about the War on Drugs" is an effort between the Akeley Chamber of Commerce, Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hansen and the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office.

"The biggest thing we want to portray to the public is if you want to promote drug use and drug sales, then Hubbard County is not the place that you want to be," said Bill Schlag, who is both an investigator with the county drug task force and a special agent with the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force.

"We want every single drug trafficker to know that we're watching them, but we need the public's help. We hope people will come out and help us spread that message."

Community effort

The idea for the drug trafficking forum began at the Akeley Chamber of Commerce's January meeting when members discussed how to make their town a better place. This forum, along with a tip line with up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of drug dealers, were the result.

Everyone in the region is invited to attend the free event.

Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes and other county and city officials will be answer questions from residents and provide information on how they can help law enforcement keep drug dealers out of their communities.

Families are encouraged to attend the forum together.

"We have quite a number of parents in the Akeley area that have inquired into having a meeting like this," Hansen said.

"We want the community to work with us," Schlag said. "Part of the reason we're having this forum is because there are a lot of citizens out there who are sick of the drugs. It's affecting their community. It's affecting their cities and their whole family. We want to hear what the public has to say and want them to be on our side. If people in the community believe they're witnessing drug-related activity, I want them to call us. We want to talk about the indicators of drug related activity."

A moderator will be leading the forum.

"We encourage people to bring their questions," Schlag said. "As a member of the drug task force, I want to hear them. I want to know what their concerns are. If they want to talk privately later, I absolutely will."

"Anybody that has ever asked to have Bill contact them, he has contacted them, without a doubt," Hansen said. "That is huge."

County is a 'drug corridor'

"We'll talk about some things that are surprises," Hansen said. "Most people don't even know what's passing through their community on a daily basis. Going through what we've intercepted, it's some crazy stuff and I'm a very, very small police department in a small community."

Hansen said many of the drugs have been found on traffic stops of people passing through Akeley.

"Hubbard County has a high number of major highways," Schlag said. "You've got Hwy. 64, Hwy. 34, Hwy. 71 and Hwy. 2. They are major thoroughfares. The tendency (for drug trafficking) is to go from the south to the north, so Hwy. 64 is one of the main drug corridors."

Fentanyl found in area

The three drugs Schlag said they are most concentrated on fighting are methamphetamine (meth), prescription pills (mainly opioids) and the rise in heroin.

"The people bringing the drugs into the communities coming from the southern states are starting to carry heroin as well as meth, and we're starting to see heroin mixed with fentanyl," Schlag said. "That's the one that's extremely dangerous."

Schlag said that while many people think of the opioid epidemic as mainly going on in larger cities in other states, it's a big concern locally as well.

"It's happening just as much in the city of Akeley and Park Rapids as it's happening in downtown Chicago or Los Angeles. It's happening everywhere," he said.

Drugs and crime

"Because of the opioid epidemic, good people are doing bad things," Schlag said. "Five or six months ago, remember that person broke into something like 50 houses around here? That was opioid-related. They were looking for drugs."

"Back 15 years ago ,my sheriff in Otter Tail County was in the BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension)," Hansen said. "He said at that time 87 percent of all crime was drug- and alcohol-related."

"I'd say that's higher now," Schlag said. "We are taking a proactive approach to the drug-related incidents in Hubbard County. During this forum, we're all working collaboratively together to put a stop to this. Whether its opioids, methamphetamines, marijuana, heroin or fentanyl, we're trying to stay in front of it the best we can."

Anonymous tips welcome

Schlag said that fear of retaliation is one reason people give for not coming forward with tips. "I'm going to tell everyone at the forum if you don't want to talk tonight, if you have some questions or concerns, leave me a note or call me, I can meet with them privately afterwards if they'd like. The more information we have, the more proactive we can be."

Addiction affects all ages

Schlag said he has encountered youth as young as 16 who are into meth and heroin all the way up to people in their 60s or older. He explained that addicts may be hooked on one substance and then go to another.

"While most juveniles aren't capable of lining up a drug deal, there are adults supplying the drugs to them, and that needs to be stopped," he said.

Schlag said he went out on a social service call recently that involved a woman six months pregnant who tested positive for meth within five miles of Park Rapids, so drugs are affecting unborn babies as well.

For more information about the forum, call 612-723-0126.