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Published August 31 2013

Forum editorial: Taking on a new drug fight

The Fargo-Moorhead metro is not the heroin capital of the Upper Midwest. The challenge is to keep it that way.

The Forum story (Aug. 29, Page One) about what is believed to be the largest heroin seizure ever in the city is reason for concern. It comes after several reports of heroin overdoses, some resulting in death. It comes after an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force arrested 30 people alleged to be involved in trafficking in the Twin Cities, Fargo, Williston and Grand Forks. It comes after a spike in hospital admissions for heroin overdoses in nearby cities, including Duluth, Minn., and St. Cloud, Minn.

If the headlines are surprising, they should not be. About a year ago, after a lengthy discussion with The Forum’s Editorial Board, U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon warned that heroin was re-emerging as the street drug of choice. He said heroin was cheaper than other illegal drugs, and he expected to see more of it. He said young men with big money in North Dakota’s Oil Patch would attract organized crime to the North Dakota drug trade, and the Fargo-Moorhead market is on the way to oil country.

He was right.

Despite an increasingly disturbing picture, it is somewhat reassuring that Purdon and the multijurisdictional task force are not trying to soft-pedal reality. Law enforcement officials have been candid about the threat. Resources, including more federal officers, have been deployed in Williston and Minot, where traffickers see opportunities associated with oil country population growth and new wealth. Arrests have been made. Drug trade networks have been broken up.

That’s good news. However, it must be viewed in a context that is anything but good news. North Dakota’s west, never a center of heroin trade or other major crime, is at risk of becoming a marketplace for organized crime, as defined by law enforcement. That’s a scary prospect.

North Dakotans can take heart, however, in that law enforcement personnel have been open and honest about the threat, and have marshaled forces to counteract it, so that today’s admittedly serious problem does not become an entrenched epidemic.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.