Alcohol still ‘drug of choice’, but impaired driving shows improvement

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Alcohol continues to be the “drug of choice” for area residents. But Sherburne County Attorney Kathleen Heaney said the good news is that Sherburne County is no longer one of the deadliest counties in the state when it comes to impaired driving

That was one of several trends Heaney outlined in a presentation Monday to the Elk River City Council. She was joined by Elk River city prosecutors Scott Baumgartner and Derek Archambault of Hawkins and Baumgartner in Anoka.

Heaney said prescription drugs continue to be abused as well. One thing people can do to help is to drop off their unwanted prescription pills at a collection site at the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, 13880 Business Center Dr., Elk River.

Regarding other drug use, Heaney said heroin is starting to creep into the community. They also see use of cocaine and some methamphetamine.

Heaney said the county’s drug task force is a very effective tool in addressing the drug problem.

In other trends, mental health continues to be an issue, she said.

“We’re seeing kids that are coming through our system that are really struggling with mental health issues,” she said.

Because of that, they have started a program to identify juveniles needing help and what services can be provided to them and, possibly, also to their families.

Mental health issues also exist in some of the adults that the county attorney’s office sees, she said.

Law enforcement agencies in Sherburne County, including the Elk River Police Department, provide training to law enforcement so when personnel respond to people who have mental health issues, they are better equipped to help people get the care they need.

On other issues, Heaney noted that another attorney from her office — the third since she became county attorney—has been appointed a judge. Suzanne Bollman was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in November.

Dan Rehlander has joined the Sherburne County Attorney’s Office. He is an Elk River native who previously was working for the Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office.

Heaney’s office prosecutes Elk River’s felonies and some gross misdemeanor cases while Baumgartner and Archambault take care of petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors for the city of Elk River.

Baumgartner said there was a slight uptick in thefts in Elk River, from 24 in 2012 to 42 in 2013.

Domestic assault continues to be a problem as well, he said.

The number of forfeitures also increased in 2013 and included both vehicles and cash. Most forfeitures stemmed from second-degree DUI situations, he said.