Beltrami County authorities received four emergency calls in one day for heroin overdoses — one involving the death of a 39-year-old man — and they are trying to figure out whether the cases are somehow connected.
Adrian R. Dunn, of Bemidji, overdosed before dawn Saturday at a Bemidji apartment and died at an area hospital, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Three other people were hospitalized, two on calls in and around Bemidji and the last on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, the Sheriff’s Office said. Their conditions were not revealed.
“An investigation is underway to determine the sources of the heroin and whether the cases are interrelated,” read a statement Monday afternoon from chief sheriff’s deputy Ernie Beitel. “Chemical analysis of the drug will be conducted. I don’t know if it’s a pure form or something that’s been adulterated with another drug.”
Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said Monday that “heroin use has increased across Minnesota, including our area. Some of the reasons for this may include [tougher laws] regarding the sale of ingredients used in the production of meth … [and] stricter regulation of narcotic prescriptions.”
Beitel said the county has seen “several large cases come through the area” lately, noting that heroin “is fairly inexpensive, it’s easy to get, and there’s a lot of it.”
Similar bursts of heroin overdoses have occurred in other parts of the state within the past year. Last March, police in Duluth said the area saw a surge in heroin or opioid-related overdoses within a one-week period. In November, Eden Prairie police reported two fatal heroin overdoses.
Starts in metro areas
Dr. Joseph Lee, medical director for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Youth Continuum, said that reported overdoses in more rural areas tell him there is no part of Minnesota that is immune from these heroin incidents.
“Heroin abuse generally comes in metro areas first and then spreads out,” Lee said. It appears, he added, that “access to heroin is even more rampant than we knew.”
Late last spring, a federal grand jury indicted 41 people in a conspiracy that distributed heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs across the Upper Midwest and on two large Minnesota Indian reservations. At least 10 people were booked into the Beltrami County jail. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said at the time that the illicit drugs from Detroit and Chicago were being sold to Indian communities in Minnesota and elsewhere.
In the Twin Cities in 2014, a record-high 14.6 percent of admissions to addiction treatment programs were for heroin, according to Carol Falkowski, former director of the alcohol and drug abuse division at the state Department of Human Services and now with Drug Abuse Dialogues, a private provider of educational workshops.
For the first time ever in the metro area, Falkowski added, there were almost as many admissions in 2014 for heroin (3,208) as there were for marijuana (3,246).
Antidote being used
A few emergency response agencies in Minnesota have been using a fairly new tool to combat overdoses on the spot and are saving lives with it.
The drug naloxone can reverse the fatal effects of heroin with a quick shot of mist into a victim’s nose. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office became the first agency in the state to use the antidote.
In November, the drug saved an overdose victim’s life in Eden Prairie during that suburb’s rash of overdoses.
Deputies responding to the overdose this past weekend provided cardiopulmonary resuscitation, chest compression, artificial oxygen and the use of a defibrillator on Dunn, but “to no avail,” Beitel’s statement said.
Mastin said his officers “do not carry naloxone — however, we have been looking into the feasibility.”
Current challenges to that include the drug’s cost, the expense of training law enforcement to use it, “along with environmental factors — freezing in squad cars,” Mastin said.
Hazelden’s Lee said he’d like to see “the same level of access” to naloxone for every county in the state.