Time for communities to tackle drug problem

Some experts are calling the increase in the use of the drug heroin an epidemic, and are urging community leaders, parents and schools to act on this problem.

Last year in Hennepin and Ramsey counties alone, 120 people died after using heroin and other opiates.

In Mille Lacs County, four persons have died in heroin-related deaths. County Attorney Jan Jude says she can’t remember a heroin case before last year.

Police departments in the Minnetonka Lake area are estimating 60 cases where heroin is involved over a year.

Partnership for a Drug Free America says 2,500 teens daily abuse heroin.

The use of heroin has become so alarming that the sheriffs from Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties recently held a press conference for good reason. In Hennepin County the number of heroin overdose deaths went from eight in 2010 to 21 last year. Anoka County went from five deaths to 13 and Ramsey County from three deaths in 2010 to 12 in 2011.

The sheriffs emphasized that this use of heroin is happening all over the Twin Cities and suburban communities. In the past, people have taken methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription pain killers.

“Now the issue is prescription opiate abuse,” says Carol Falkowski, drug abuse strategy officer for the Minnesota Human Services Department.

Falkowski says it is time for individual communities to attack this problem.

One place to start is for everyone to clean out their medicine cabinets and get rid of all the unused prescription medicines, particularly pain killers.

Sheriff’s offices have set up collection points for these unused medications where no questions will be asked. Contact your local police departments to see if they will dispose of unused prescriptions.

Drug abusers will abuse what they can find. Users particularly like Adderall and prescription drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Once they run out of drugs from home, users in the Twin Cities turn to heroin, which is said to be the purest in the country, making it even more lethal.

Falkowski says community leaders can educate people about the problem, help inform parents and establish necessary policies.

Parents need to talk to their children about using other children’s medicine. Falkowski says children are not getting the message on not sharing medications with other kids.

Parents need to realize that even their sons and daughters could be taking heroin and if overdosed need to administer naloxone and call 911.

Education leaders need to talk and teach about drug abuse just as they treat any health issue, particularly in the earlier grades. Detective Jami Wittke of the Mound Police Department teaches sixth-graders about the dangers of taking drugs as part of the DARE program.

Special drug task forces  including the West Metro Task Force, are enforcing the drug abuse laws.

An all-out attack on the use of heroin is needed if the “epidemic” is to be lessened. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers (Editor’s note: Heinzman writes editorials and columns for ECM Publishers, Inc.)