Heroin overdoses cause for concern in region

Deadly heroin overdoses in north central Minnesota and Fargo recently have local and state officials worried as it's affecting multiple communities across the region.

  Deadly heroin overdoses in north central Minnesota and Fargo recently have local and state officials worried as it’s affecting multiple communities across the region.

     Heroin hasn’t had a direct impact on Hubbard County  and the Park Rapids area but seeing what’s happening in the region does have Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes concerned.

     “We are fortunate we’re not seeing it right here when you look at the serious issues right around us but definitely there is a concern,” Aukes said.

     Aukes said the information he is getting from his drug investigators is heroin is around the Park Rapids area, primarily coming through the reservations, but they haven’t seen it here consistently.

     “We haven’t had a buy on it yet. We just haven’t had the involvement like you’re seeing around us,” Aukes said. “It’s just not prevalent here like meth and prescription drugs.”


     Richard Edward Bell, 44, was recently convicted and sent to prison following drug possession and weapons charges resulting from a November arrest in Park Rapids. Bell was pulled over by Park Rapids police officers who searched his vehicle and found two small envelopes containing heroin and $1,500 cash. He was arrested for possession of controlled substance.

     Investigators executed a search warrant on the vehicle located in the trunk approximately 10.5 grams of methamphetamine and heroin, as well as a loaded 9mm handgun.

     Bell was not from Park Rapids and Aukes believes he was just passing through when he was pulled over on a traffic stop.

     Methamphetamine remains the most visible drug in and around Park Rapids when it comes to investigations and arrests.

     “We are still working meth cases very aggressively,” Aukes said. “We have a guy on our task force and that’s all he does is work meth cases. We’re going to continue fighting that as hard as we can.”

Regional problem

     Bemidji is at the epicenter of a deadly heroin wave responsible for seven deaths and more than a dozen non-fatal overdoses over the past few weeks – evidence of an epidemic that law enforcement say has been intensifying over the past few years.

     And now a new batch, possibly laced with a narcotic, is being blamed for making an already dangerous drug even more volatile. It was the impetus for a press conference with state and local law enforcement Wednesday in Bemidji as they try to address a problem that is seemingly boundless.


     “Drugs are killing people across our communities, and it’s one of the biggest burdens on society, on our adults and especially on our children,” said Brian Marquart, statewide drug and gang coordinator for the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs.

     “We’re seeing heroin overdoses in very small towns and very rural places, and we’re seeing overdoses in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul,” he said. “It doesn’t matter your walk of life or where you live.”

     Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp called it a “terrible epidemic that has struck the Beltrami County area and the region.”

     In Bemidji and its outskirts since Feb. 27, at least two people have died and at least three have been hospitalized after overdosing on heroin.

     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.

     “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.

     Fargo-Moorhead is seeing heroin as well.

     Three overdose deaths in one week, possibly related to dangerous fentanyl-laced heroin, have prompted a coordinated area law enforcement response, with dire warnings to the public and a round of arrests of suspected suppliers.


     Fargo Police Chief David Todd announced that arrests of four suspected heroin suppliers were made at a south Fargo hotel Sunday, suspects Todd believes are connected to at least one overdose death on Saturday morning.

     He said there may be other people who received the same drugs in the area.

“It could be extremely dangerous,” Todd said of the tainted narcotics. “I don’t want to have any more deaths out there.”

     The suspected heroin could be laced with fentanyl, Todd said, which can be 40-50 times more potent than pure heroin and can be absorbed through the skin in some cases.

     Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate used to treat severe pain, according to the National Institutes of Health, and, when mixed with street drugs in powder form, can amplify their potency and cause breathing problems, unconsciousness, coma or death.

     Opiates can include heroin, opium, fentanyl, hydrocodone and other substances.

     The arrests come after an alarming surge in overdose deaths in Fargo in just the past week. Police said investigators are still working to determine if the cases are related.

     According to police, the overdose cases left three people dead and two injured in Fargo.


     And over the past several days, seven people have been arrested for bringing heroin to northern Minnesota or its borders, including a Bemidji man who was caught Monday during a traffic stop in Itasca County.

     This year, the state’s Violent Crime Enforcement Teams have recovered 18 pounds of heroin, representing 82,000 doses and more than $1 million of product. The haul removed from the streets has already eclipsed the total from last year, and is a pound away from becoming the highest total over the past five years.

     “We’re treating these overdose deaths as homicide investigations,” said Sue Burggraf, special agent in charge for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “When we find those drug dealers, we intend to charge them with third-degree murder.”


(Kyle Farris of the Bemidji Pioneer contributed to this story with additional information provided by Forum News Service reports).







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