Education on dangers of heroin planned countywide

Three community forums on the dangers of heroin, opiates and prescription pain killers will take place in Anoka County over the next month.

The forums will be presented by Anoka County, the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, the Anoka County Attorney’s Office and the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

The first forum will be Tuesday, Jan. 28 at Eagle Brook Church, 7775 20th Ave. N., Lino Lakes; the second Thursday, Feb. 6 at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, 14501 Nowthen Blvd. NW., Ramsey; and the third Thursday, Feb. 13 at Eagle Brook Church, 8498 Sunset Road, Spring Lake Park.

At each forum there will be a presentation from 7-8:30 p.m., followed by a question and answer session from 8:30-9 p.m.

The same information will be shared at each forum with presentations by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and a Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge prevention specialist speaking about current local drug trends, causes of addiction and means of intervention.

In addition, young adults from Anoka County will present their personal story of substance abuse and how their recreational drug uses turned into heroin addiction.

Resource tables will also be set up at the forums

“This is a critical issue that is hurting Anoka County significantly,” said Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah.

“Through these forums, we hope members of the community learn more about the issue, and discuss ways we can work together to make our community safer.”

According to Amanda Vickstrom, crime prevention and outreach coordinator with the Anoka County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement has responded to many tragic overdoses in the past few years and are also finding the potency and accessibility of heroin, in particular, is alarmingly high.

“What starts as use of a prescription painkiller can easily turn into a heroin addiction,” said Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.

“Law enforcement is working to get drugs off our streets, but parental and community involvement are essential in preventing drug accessibility and addiction – it’s a team effort.”

In the fall of 2013, the St. Francis Community Drug Awareness, a group that formed in School District 15 to combat drug use following the deaths linked to heroin overdose of two St. Francis students last year, hosted two community forums.

At those forums in November, statistics were presented that showed that there had been 21 heroin-related deaths in Anoka County in 2013; a year earlier there were four.

At the Nov. 11, 2013 meeting Carol Falkowski, former drug abuse strategy officer at the Minnesota Department of Human Services and director of research communications at the Hazelden Foundation, spoke about the dangers of heroin and other drugs.

Heroin is in the opiate family, which are drugs derived from the poppy plant, and is highly addictive with many people progressing to it from prescription opiates like Vicodin and OxyContin, according to Falkowski.

Traveling up from Mexico, heroin in the Twin Cities is extremely pure and very cheap, Falkowski told those attending the St. Francis meeting.

Members of the public – parents, youth workers, teachers and concerned adults – are encouraged to attend one of the three Anoka County forums in the next few weeks.

“We continue to see young people using these drugs with devastating results,” said Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo.

“One of the best ways to combat drug use is with parental and community involvement.”

The Anoka County Attorney’s Office Jan. 17 filed a felony third-degree murder charge against Rex Dallas David Fernald, 22, Ham Lake, accusing him of providing a 28-year-old woman Ham Lake woman, a recovering heroin user, with heroin which led to her death in March 2013.

According to its website, for more than 25 years, Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has offered a full range of services to teens and adults struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, including intensive licensed Rule 31 treatment programs, both residential and outpatient; long-term faith-based recovery programs; extensive aftercare programs for graduates; and prevention programs for middle and high school students.

It has locations in the Twin Cities, Brainerd, Duluth and Rochester.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]