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Published June 10 2012

Police: Heroin making aggressive comeback in Minnesota

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Brent Fair became an undercover drug investigator almost seven years ago, methamphetamine was the big concern. Overdoses on other drugs were rare.

As Fair returns to patrol duties this month, the landscape has changed. And he says it scares him.

Heroin has made an aggressive comeback in central Minnesota, the St. Cloud Times reported Sunday.

There have been five overdoses resulting in two deaths in the last month and a half in the St. Cloud area. There also have been four deaths in Mille Lacs County since the first of the year, two deaths in Sherburne County and at least one each in Wright and Morrison counties.

“I think it's the tip of the iceberg,” Fair said. "I don't want to alarm you, but there will be, within a year, kids dying. And it will be high school kids, people still in school; the tragic story, the cheerleader or the captain of the football team.

It's a statewide problem, too. Hospital-treated heroin cases in Minnesota were up 68 percent in 2011 compared with 2010.

And it's why the Central Minnesota Violent Offender Task Force in April held a summit about the drug. It included members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Fair didn't hear much about heroin in the St. Cloud area when he began undercover work for the regional task force. Things changed in 2009, when the Drug Enforcement Administration reported a spike in the purity of heroin. Now, he said, some of the heroin found around St. Cloud is more than 90 percent pure.

The statewide fallout includes:

— Arrests by Minnesota task forces for heroin were up 91 percent in 2011 compared with 2010.

— Heroin seizures by Minnesota task forces were up 1,584 percent in 2011 compared with 2010.

— Heroin overdose deaths in Hennepin, Anoka and Ramsey counties in the Twin Cities metro area nearly tripled in 2011 compared with 2010.

The problem also has roots in the easy availability of prescription pain medications. Young people often get addicted to narcotics, such as Oxycontin that are prescribed for their parents, Fair said. Then their addiction needs to be fed by other opiates, which are cheaper than painkillers on the black market.

Once hooked on heroin, the quest for the next high is difficult to break. Users need more and more to achieve a high like the first one.

Young people shouldn't take any comfort from stories of fellow users surviving overdoses, Fair said.

“If you're lucky, someone calls an ambulance,” he said. “But if you're not lucky and everybody panics when you go over, you're dead.”