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KIMT News 3 – “I tried it the first time when I was 13, and I smoked on and off from 13 to 16. Quit at 16, and then didn’t start again until I was 19 and I’ve been smoking since then.”
Meet a self-described avid marijuana user; we’ll call him “Andy.” Andy says he is just your average Joe with an ordinary life. He works full-time, stays in shape, pays his bills, but at the end of that day filled with responsibility, Andy smokes pot. Andy says his habit isn’t a problem.
“It doesn’t affect my day to day business, it doesn’t affect my work, and it doesn’t affect my school. I went to a private school I graduated with an above b average and I have a great job right now,” said Andy.
Even his parents know what he does.
“My parents have known I’ve been doing it my whole life. My dad’s simple phrase is don’t mess your life up because it is a drug according to the government and it is illegal,” said Andy.
Some describe marijuana as a gateway drug-believing it has the potential to open the door to the use and dependence of harder drugs.
Andy believes further use is based on people’s curiosity.
“I don’t entirely believe in, but I do see how it could lead to other things. I just don’t think that its one of those things that since I’ve smoke marijuana that now I want to go try heroin or cocaine or something like that,” said Andy.
In North Iowa, law enforcers say they’re busy dealing with meth and marijuana users.
Sheriff Kevin Pals, with the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office, says marijuana is on a rise from five years ago.
He says it’s mostly with people in their late teens and 20’s, that are either arrested for recreational use or distributing.
And in Minnesota, Captain Mark Erickson, says state’s legalizing marijuana can lead to dangerous lifestyles.
“To it legalized in the states is going to have a lot of issues down the road not stopping it. Because so many people are using it, I would argue there’s a lot more people that aren’t,” said Erickson.
Erickson’s been with the Southeast Minnesota Narcotics Task Force for more than four years.
And says one drug remains prevalent.
“Meth right now is a big concern of ours. Majority of our cases involve meth and related crimes,” said Erickson.
And it’s safe to say the concern meth is still popular is not a surprise.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, amphetamine, known as speed, become quite popular in the 60 and 70’s with athletes, college students, and truck drivers.
In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act making key ingredients, in things such as cold medicines, harder to purchase.
And in 2006 the U.N. World Drug Report described meth as the most abused hard drug on earth.
But it’s not just meth-heroin use is escalating in Minnesota as well.
“The purity is very high so it’s dangerous. We have had dealers who sell us narcotics to our undercover people tell them to be very careful with that it’s hot,” said Erickson.
Captain Erickson says doctors and nurses are noticing the rise.
“I would say Rochester, OlmstedCounty, in the last five months we’ve had three heroin overdoses so heroin is a big problem,” said Erickson.
According to the Narconon program, a program for recovering heroin users, in the late 70’s the U.S. and Mexican government, in an effort to eliminate raw opium, sprayed poppy fields with agent orange.
In the early 80’s funny man John Belushi died of a heroin overdose.
And in between 2004-2009 emergency room’s trip for people needing help with prescription drug abuse, what some say can be key starters of heroin use, doubled.
One user Erickson talked to says it’s the devil’s drug.
“He says I’m on methadone, I’m trying to get off of it, it’s just tough, and I’m addicted. Everybody I talk to heroin users are saying its just like the devil itself,” said Erickson.
After talking to the Captain about what the problem is around the area we also chatted about what the solution can be.
And one way he feels like things can improve is by education.
At Stewartville Middle School the way they educate the students is by using the D.A.R.E program.
You may remember D.A.R.E yourself; it stands for drug abuse resistance education.
Teaching kids early on about the dangers.
Captain Kevin Torgerson, is head of the D.A.R.E program in OlmstedCounty.
“We know drugs are out there. We do everything we can from the enforcement side but D.A.R.E give us that opportunity to get right in the classroom with a friendly face, friendly officer,” said Torgerson.
Torgerson says it’s a matter of teaching kids early about good choices.
“Kids need to hear messages about positive lifestyles, and positive decision making skills throughout their entire growing up lives, we still need it as adults,” said Torgerson.
But throughout North Iowa and Southern Minnesota, the D.A.R.E is program is starting to disappear from school districts.
Many blame it on a lack of finances.
Others say the program just doesn’t work.
But Torgerson says whether it works or not, shouldn’t be the focus.
“Saying that it doesn’t work because of one failed, here or one mistake the child made here or there doesn’t mean that the whole program has to go away and that’s our aspect, our belief, philosophy is we have to keep teaching because somebody’s got to,” said Torgerson.
For Andy he says the D.A.R.E program experience was opinion based rather than educational.
In which he considers it just another class from his past.
“I’m just like you. I still get my job done; I still get my work done. I lead a successful life and its not going to change who I am and it’s never going to,” said Torgerson.
In North Iowa, Prairie Ridge is an addiction treatment center, and their number is 641-424-2391.
In Southern Minnesota, Fountain Centers is a drug treatment center and their number is 507- 377-6411.