MINNEAPOLIS — A recent cluster of drug overdoses across the Twin Cities metro has authorities scrambling to find the source of any potent drug and to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
Minneapolis police said Thursday they have responded to 65 overdoses in the past nine days. The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension notes in the past two weeks there have been 175 drug overdoses — 17 of them fatal — among the 89 Minnesota police agencies who take part of the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program.
Law enforcement agencies from across the metro area are stepping up coordination efforts and throwing more resources at the problem.
Minneapolis police have created an overdose coordinator position within the department’s homicide unit to review all cases and are increasing patrols in high-overdose areas. In South St. Paul, search warrants at one overdose site tell how investigators are searching for the supplier. And St. Paul police, like many other agencies, are focusing on letting people know about the threat of a “bad batch” of potent heroin.
Time is of the essence, authorities said.
“This is not a war on drugs, this is a fight for our families,” said Minnesota’s U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald. She hosted U.S. drug czar Jim Carroll on Thursday for a roundtable discussion on the state’s response to drug use and addiction.
What is a 'bad batch'?
Police suspect that laced drugs have contributed to the spike in recent overdoses.
When heroin or prescription drugs are laced with a substance like fentanyl, for example, the risk of overdose and death is much higher, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
After the roundtable discussion, Carroll told reporters that overdoses brought on by these drugs are often accidental.
“What we’re seeing in some of these situations are people taking a drug that they think might be cocaine or might be a Xanax pill, and they might not even realize that the deadly fentanyl drug is in there,” Carroll said.
He added that many of the drugs that kill Americans come from outside the U.S.
A deadly tally
Washington County has had a rash of deadly overdoses. One person died of an overdose Wednesday in Cottage Grove, which also had four non-fatal overdoses in the past two weeks. Another person died of an overdose Tuesday in neighboring St. Paul Park, which came after a May 29 overdose death in Lakeland and one in Lake Elmo on May 23.
Sara Halverson, commander of the Washington County sheriff’s office, called the spike “alarming” on Thursday and said the county’s drug task force is working with local agencies to find the source.
Cottage Grove police Capt. Randy McAlister is not sure if the overdoses in his community are related to those nearby, but he said he would not be surprised if they are.
In Minneapolis, the city recorded 50 overdoses in the past week alone — an all-time high. One of them was deadly.
The overdoses were caused by different types of drugs, such as counterfeit oxycontin, potent heroin and other unknown substances. Minneapolis police carry naloxone and have administered it when applicable.
What agencies are doing
Law enforcement agencies have sent out “spike alerts” in the past few days to alert the public about the overdoses. Carroll said these messages are also meant to reach people who are addicted and let them know that the street drugs they buy may yield a “lethal dose.”
“The fact that we’re seeing a sudden spike certainly indicates that there’s something happening right now, on the streets, that people need to be concerned about,” Carroll said.
Investigators in Dakota County have issued search warrants over the six overdoses this past weekend at a South St. Paul home.
After six men overdosed, authorities confiscated two cell phones during a search of the home at 220 Bircher Ave. in that city. And earlier this week, the Dakota County Drug Task Force obtained another search warrant to examine the phones in an attempt to locate the source of the substance, which some believe was laced with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Meanwhile, in a less than two-hour span on Tuesday in St. Paul, four people overdosed on heroin suspected to be laced. Another person OD’d the next morning. St. Paul police haven’t determined what the heroin was laced with.
St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster said the department is less focused on making an arrest and more concerned about letting the public know about the situation and that they should seek help if they need it.
Ernster noted that Minnesota’s “Good Samaritan Law” protects people from being charged or prosecuted if they act in good faith while seeking medical assistance for someone who is overdosing.
Even where the recent spike hasn’t hit, officials are taking notice.
“We’re counting our blessings,” said Wayne Heath, a commander with the Anoka County sheriff’s office.
His agency is monitoring the situation with patrols and has assigned investigators and the county’s drug task force to be on the lookout.
“It truly is a roll of dice with some of drugs that are out there,” he said. “Not knowing what you’re getting can lead to tragic consequences, unfortunately.”
What should the public do?
Police are asking people to:
•Call 911 if they or someone they know is overdosing.
•Use naloxone (Narcan) if a person is having an overdose.
•Tell drug users about the bad batch going around.
•Seek help through a chemical-dependency treatment center.