Twin Cities police worried about dramatic uptick in heroin-related deaths

In the metro core, heroin-related deaths nearly tripled last year.
In the metro core, heroin-related deaths nearly tripled last year.

Yesterday, the Hennepin, Anoka, and Ramsey County Sheriffs held a joint news conference to highlight a trend of increasing concern to Twin Cities law enforcement -- an uptick in heroin use, particularly among youth.

Deaths caused by heroin overdoses in the three counties increased nearly three-fold last year, rising from 16 in 2010 to 46 in 2011. In Hennepin County alone, 21 people died from heroin-related causes last year, more than double the number of such deaths in any of the previous four years.

During the news conference, the sheriffs connected the uptick in heroin use to abuse of prescription drugs, which they characterized as gateway opiates.

Said Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart: "When we see high school students trying something for the first time and they grab something out of the medicine cabinet, and sure enough they like that and the next thing you know they try heroine for the first time and they never ever wake up."

The sheriffs also issued a warning about the potency of heroin available on Twin Cities streets, some of which is up to 93 percent pure. Street heroin is typically about 35 percent pure, so the potency of the heroin being found on Twin Cities street is unusually high.

"A heroin user in the Twin Cities has a greater chance of accidental overdose because the purity of that heroin is so high," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom said the recent uptick in heroin usage has been so significant that the sheriffs felt compelled to hold a news conference and ask the public to be more diligent in doing what they can to keep gateway prescription drugs out of the hands of Twin Cities youth.

"We've been through this long enough in law enforcement -- long enough to recognize trends, and we're starting to see a trend," Bostrom said. "And that's where our appeal comes from, is to say 'help us.'"

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