Hennepin County broke a record in 2013, and it’s not one to be proud of. Last year was our deadliest year for heroin-related deaths.

Fifty-four people lost their lives as a result of heroin overdose. Over the past decade, heroin deaths have increased steadily each year. This extremely addictive and dangerous drug has reached into homes and families across the county, affecting sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and parents.

It may come as a surprise to learn that not all heroin addictions start with a syringe and a spoon. For many addicts, it begins in their home medicine cabinet. Prescription-drug abuse is directly linked to the increasing popularity of heroin because both types of drugs are opiates.

When the pill bottle runs dry, some of the cheapest and purest heroin in the country can be purchased right here in the Twin Cities. These days, heroin can be smoked, snorted, injected and even ingested. If you don’t have to use a needle, there’s less stigma. Sadly, that is more inviting to new users.

Opiate addiction tears families apart and devastates thousands of lives. Law enforcement officials are targeting the drug dealers who peddle this poison. We’re working in partnership with the county attorney’s office to ensure that when a person dies from heroin overdose, the heroin dealers are charged with murder.

But we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Opiate addiction is a national epidemic and we need your help. Prevention and education are the most effective ways to combat this alarming trend.

You can reduce the risk of prescription-drug abuse by safely securing the medicines you need and by properly disposing of unwanted medications at disposal boxes located throughout the county and the metro area. This is an easy and convenient way to reduce the supply of opiates that could be abused or sold illegally. Preventing painkiller abuse will help reduce heroin use.

If you have a loved one who is addicted to opiates, we urge you to get them into treatment. We also urge you to support new legislation that we recently proposed to reduce the death toll from opiate overdose throughout Minnesota. A component of the proposed law would allow law enforcement personnel to administer a heroin antidote known as Narcan (or naloxone). It is already saving lives in other states, and it can do the same here.

Narcan buys law enforcement officers critical time when they arrive at the scene of a drug overdose by reversing the effects of opioids. In many cases, law enforcement personnel are the first to respond to a 911 call; using Narcan could mean the difference between life and death.

We know this won’t completely eradicate the scourge of heroin, but if it saves one life, it’s worth it.

In 2013, we set a record for heroin deaths. In 2014, our entire community has the responsibility to increase efforts to address this growing public-safety threat.


Rich Stanek is sheriff of Hennepin County. State Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, lost her 23-year-old daughter, Ariel, to a heroin overdose in 2007.