A patient in a locked state drug-treatment center in Fergus Falls, Minn., has been charged with dealing narcotics in connection with a heroin smuggling operation considered so serious that state officials have ordered a complete security review.

Five female patients at the facility have tested positive for illegal narcotics in recent weeks, and one was hospitalized in Fargo after a drug overdose that left her in a coma, authorities said Tuesday.

Three additional suspects are being held in other county jails, and arrest warrants have been issued for two people in the Twin Cities, according to Fergus Falls Police Chief Kile Bergren.

Top officials at the state Department of Human Services have known for at least two years of smuggling attempts at the facility. But it was not until last month, following the drug overdoses and a patient being put on life support, that they ordered a top-to-bottom security and licensing review.

Over the past two years, patients have used or attempted to smuggle a range of drugs including heroin, Dilaudid, oxycodone, marijuana and crystal salts, according to documents that the department provided the Star Tribune under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

The hospitalized woman is Trista Cloud, who was civilly committed to the facility in 2010, authorities said. Cloud, of Walker, Minn., overdosed on opiates in mid-December and was on life support until late last week, authorities said. She remains hospitalized with little to no brain activity and a collapsed lung.

The patient arrested Monday is Rachel Lynn Campbell, 33, of Minneapolis, charged with receiving drugs hidden in packages shipped from the Twin Cities area, authorities said.

Campbell, being held in the Otter Tail County jail, was charged Tuesday with selling or bartering 3 ounces of a heroin-cocaine-methamphetamine mix to fellow patients, authorities said.

Mail search

Bergren said the investigation began in November, when staff at the 48-bed facility -- known as Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise (CARE) -- first found drugs hidden in packages shipped from the Twin Cities.

Bergren said at least nine packages suspected of containing drugs were shipped to the facility, and four contained heroin or prescription drugs. In November, staffers found 18 pills, not identified by type, in a package during a normal mail search. The return address was fictitious, and police did not make an arrest because the drugs were not in the possession of the patient.

In early December, police joined the investigation after two bundles of white powder and blue pills were found hidden in a bottle of shampoo. On Dec. 17, two days after Cloud overdosed, staffers found pills that had been sewn into the zipper seam of jeans mailed to the facility.

"It's the first time in 20-plus years that I can remember law enforcement in this area being involved with heroin,'' Bergren said. "They say it's making a comeback, and I guess this shows it is.''

Currently, the treatment center lacks security staff of its own. In a written statement this week the department, which oversees the facility, said: "The staffing level has been meeting the needs of the program."

More security needed?

However, Assistant Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry disagreed vehemently in a follow-up interview.

"If law enforcement is coming to our facility more than once, there is certainly enough concern by the leadership that we need to do our own reviews,'' Barry said. "And the first thing I'm going to want to know is what security is in place from entrance to exit. We need to know what happened and why."

Barry also expressed concern about the center's ability to interdict drugs.

"We have a duty to make sure we don't provide people in treatment with more chemicals," she said. "If we are a properly run treatment program, people in this state should expect that people are not being exposed to drugs in our facility."

Treatment units are locked, but Barry said she was not ruling out the need for additional security staff.

Barry said she was also concerned over the monitoring of Cloud's condition on Dec. 15, the day when police came to the facility and arrested her for violating her probation due to a drug violation. After Cloud was arrested and booked into the Otter Tail County jail, she suffered a medical emergency and was admitted to a local hospital. Her condition was so serious that the next day she was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in Fargo.

"Since she was court-ordered to be under our supervision, we probably should have known that information,'' Barry said. "We were out of the loop.''

The Fergus Falls center is one of six chemical dependency treatment programs that fall under the department's State Operated Services division. Persons with severe dependency problems may be committed there by a judge. Currently, 28 of the facility's 41 clients are under civil commitment. Seventeen are women.

Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745