Heroin: Cheap, accessible and very pure

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Shortly after Joel Brott became Sherburne County’s sheriff in 2009, he was invited to participate in an event about heroin.

At that time there had been some heroin arrests in Sherburne County but it didn’t seem to be prevalent, he said.

Today, that isn’t the case. Sherburne County saw nearly a dozen heroin overdose deaths in 2012 and a lot of the undercover drug buys now involve heroin, he said.

The drug is popular because it’s cheap and it’s accessible, Brott said. And chemical dependency counselors will note that heroin is sometimes the next step for people who abuse opiate-based prescription drugs like oxycodone, he said.

Elk River is also feeling the effects of heroin, with three of the 11 overdose deaths in Sherburne County last year occurring in Elk River.

Police Chief Brad Rolfe said there has been some level of heroin abuse in Elk River throughout the years he’s worked here. But in about the past five years, heroin has made a resurgence.

Police Capt. Bob Kluntz said they started seeing medical calls related to heroin abuse, and then heroin began popping up in traffic stops — officers stopping drivers and finding heroin during a search. That’s when they realized heroin was becoming more prevalent in the Elk River area. Then the overdose deaths occurred, causing a lot of concern throughout the community, he said.

Rolfe and Kluntz said the heroin being used locally is inexpensive, prevalent and extremely pure.

“One shot could kill you,” Rolfe said.

Kluntz also noted that with heroin, like any illegal drug, no one knows what dosage they are getting.

“You don’t know what that’s laced with,” he said.

Police and medical personnel have saved several people in Elk River who would have overdosed had they not received timely medical attention, he and Rolfe said.

Another issue is that some criminal activity is linked to drug abuse. Crimes that spin off from heroin and other drug abuse include thefts and burglaries by people trying to support their habit, Rolfe said.

One way the Police Department hopes to address the heroin problem is by adding an Elk River Police Department detective to the Sherburne County Drug Task Force. Drug abuse doesn’t know borders, and having people from different agencies on a task force is helpful, Rolfe said.

“It’s a big burden — developing leads and conducting investigations and making arrests and doing follow-up and preparing for trial,” Rolfe said. “It’s extremely time-consuming and resource-demanding. The more people we can have engaged in the task force the more successful it’s going to be.”

Rolfe has made the request, but it is not in the city’s preliminary 2014 budget at this time, although Mayor John Dietz has said he supports the idea.

Rolfe said they are also trying to increase public awareness. Part of that is encouraging parents to be deeply engaged in their children’s lives, educating parents about the signs of chemical abuse and encouraging them to seek help if they suspect a problem.

About heroin 

•Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant.

•Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder, however, some heroin looks like black tar.

•Short-term effects of heroin include a surge of euphoria followed by alternately wakeful and drowsy states and cloudy mental functioning.

•Heroin abuse is associated with fatal overdose and — particularly in users who inject the drug — infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Long-term users may develop collapsed veins, liver disease and lung complications.

Source: Elk River Police Department