East-metro counties battle prescription drug abuse

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2012 - 11:21 PM

Ramsey, Dakota and Washington county officials say the problem will be first focus of new crime-fighting effort.

Flip on the TV and you'll find an ad touting a drug to make you feel better, Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom said Tuesday.

But abuse of prescription drugs is a growing issue for adults and teens, he said, and in Dakota County, the problems have worked their way into his office's caseload.

Last year in Dakota County, felony charges involving prescription drugs rose from 57 to 79, a 38.6 percent increase. That stat helped make prescription drugs the focus Tuesday of a newly formed East Metro Crime Prevention Coalition.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who has joined Backstrom and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput in leading the group, said at a news conference that authorities hope to achieve the kind of success with prescription drug abuse prevention that has been seen in campaigns to reduce traffic deaths and methamphetamine-related offenses.

"This isn't unique," Orput said. "We all have the same kind of problems."

A key strategy promoted Tuesday was the creation of drug takeback programs.

On Friday, Hennepin County also plans to begin making drop-off boxes available permanently for the collection of unused prescriptions.

The east metro coalition anticipates tackling a variety of crimes as it moves ahead. But for Tuesday's forum at the Dakota Lodge in West St. Paul, prosecutors called upon law enforcement officials and health experts to discuss prescription drug practices, addiction and treatment, in addition to drug abuse prevention.

Bill Dehkes, director of operations for the Face It Foundation, which works with men struggling with depression, commended the coalition for bringing awareness to the prescription drug issue.

"It is so easy for kids to go into their parents' medicine cabinets," Dehkes said. Among young people, seven of the top 10 abused substances are pharmaceuticals, authorities say.

Officials warn against disposing of drugs in toilets or in the trash because that can pose a danger to the local water supply and to the environment.

Last September, Ramsey County debuted a year-round collection program allowing people to drop off medicines from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, at the Law Enforcement Center, 425 Grove St., St. Paul, and the Sheriff's Patrol Station, 1411 Paul Kirkwood Drive, Arden Hills.

In Dakota County, drop boxes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the Burnsville Police Department, 100 Civic Center Pkwy.; the Dakota County Sheriff's Office, 1580 Hwy. 55, Hastings, and the West St. Paul Police Department, 1616 Humboldt Av.

Washington County, which has held takeback events, also has been working on a permanent collection system.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041

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