ROCHESTER, Minn. – In just four years, death by heroin overdose went up nearly 250 percent for Americans. Many are calling it a nationwide epidemic and it’s not just large cities being impacted.
On Thursday, the Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa announced a “listening post tour” across the state that will bring people together to talk about the impact of opioid addiction on a local level.
A very similar effort is already underway in Olmsted County, where Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge is hosting a pair of forums on the topic. The stats speak for themselves; in Minnesota more people are dying from opioid overdoses than in car accidents.
To get a snapshot on how big the problem is locally, the forum on Thursday in Rochester provided local stats from experts.
Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem says his office has seen a 60 percent increase in drug cases just this year.
“Heroin is literally killing people. Heroin is killing people in our communities, in our families,” Ostrem says.”We need to come together as a community and learn how to fight addiction.”
Also speaking at the event was Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and Sgt. Paul Wilson with the Rochester Police Department Narcotics Unit. They spoke about some of the drugs they see the most on the streets. Sgt. Wilson says right now, meth and heroine are the drugs they see the most in the city.
An emergency physician with Mayo Clinic also provided insight based on what he sees on a daily basis. Dr. Casey Clements told the group that on an any given night, an average of three people will come into his emergency room intoxicated with meth. While many other speakers reiterated through the night that no one is pointing any fingers or placing any blame, Dr. Clements admits the medical community is not completely innocent. He says that 80 percent of heroin users started by abusing prescription pain medicine. Adding the medical community needs to continue efforts to change how they prescribe these drugs that are causing opioid addiction that is leading to heroin use.
Besides the experts, local people who have been impacted first hand by opioid addiction shared their stories, including Rochester parents who lost their son at age 25 to a heroin overdose. Those with Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge say these discussions are about building awareness and letting people know what they can do to fight this issue.
“With the prescription medication, over 70 percent of it is taken from family or friends,” explains Adam Pederson, director of strategic partnerships with MN Adult & Teen Challenge. “One thing we’re going to encourage everyone in attendance tonight to do is go home and lock up their medication or get it out of a place where someone can shut the door and have their way with it.”
MN Adult & Teen Challenge has a prevention program called Know the Truth, where they go into high schools to talk to students about drug and alcohol abuse. On Thursday, they went to Mayo High School and gave seven different presentations. They were also able to gather statistics from both Mayo and Century High Schools that they shared at the forum.
“Around 29 percent of students who were surveyed have used illegal drugs, and of those 25 percent of them abused prescription medication which is about 7 percent higher than the state’s average,” says Pederson.
Another forum is scheduled for next week at John Marshall High School.