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Posted on: January 4, 2019

The Potent Drugs Behind the Opioid Epidemic

The Anoka County Sheriff's Office responds to a drug overdose case nearly every day. A string of those overdoses proved deadly in the final weeks of 2018. From December 16 through December 27, five deaths in Anoka County were suspected heroin overdoses.

“It's of great concern to us,” said Lieutenant Dan Douglas of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office. “One of the big concerns is the potency or purity of the drugs being distributed within our community.”

Forensic scientists analyze hundreds of street drugs a year at the Midwest Regional Forensics Laboratory, which is inside the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. The drugs are seized by law enforcement in Anoka, Washington and Sherburne counties. The heroin they see at the regional lab, is increasingly potent and deadly.

“Most of the heroin being tested at our lab is coming back about 93 percent pure,” explained Lt. Douglas, “which suggests it hasn't been cut or anything to make it weaker. In fact, we're finding heroin that's been laced with fentanyl and carfentanyl making it that much more potent and deadly.”

Anoka county reports 17 overdose deaths from 2018, not including the five unconfirmed cases in the final weeks of the year. Heroin in Minnesota generally ranges from about 17 percent pure, all the way up to 93 percent pure. The wide discrepancy from one drug to the next adds a layer of unpredictability to the already complex opioid crisis.

“It's obviously not regulated,” said Lt. Douglas, “there's no systems of quality assurance being put out. And to the user, they don't know how strong that drug is they're using.”

A string of overdose deaths in close proximity could suggest a particularly deadly batch of drugs is on the street.

“We're having deaths. We're having people die,” said Lt. Douglas. “And they may certainly be addicts but they're also somebody's son and father and daughter, and it's lives being lost.”

Jennifer Anderson reporting

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