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Drug overdoses on the increase

Overdose deaths have quadrupled in the Minot area since last year

Overdose deaths in the Minot area have increased dramatically over the past year but police say it is not clear whether the stress of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is one of the reasons why.

“The pandemic’s effect on the opioid use is unclear,” said Minot Police Department Capt. Dale Plessas, investigations and records commander, in an email interview. “We saw an increase in overdoses prior to the pandemic.”

According to the Minot Police Department, police had responded to 67 overdose incidents between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, with 11 of those incidents resulting in overdose deaths. In all, there have been 13 overdose deaths in Minot through Sept. 15.

In 2019 police responded to 31 overdose incidents in Minot, with three official overdose deaths.

Even those numbers may be out of date. On Monday Minot police said they were investigating the apparent overdose deaths of two 24-year-old men and sought help from the public in identifying what type of drugs the men might have taken and from where they might have gotten those drugs. Police said they fear that more people might overdose and die.

During an unrelated court hearing on Tuesday, Ward County Deputy State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz remarked to Judge Gary Lee that, by Schwarz’s count, the area is now up to 14 fentanyl overdose deaths this year and Ward County now has more fentanyl overdose deaths than it does due to COVID-19. He said two more were lost over the weekend.

A woman who has been charged with dealing drugs wrote a letter to Lee this week from the jail and begged to be released to go to a drug treatment program. She told the judge that someone she loved died in her arms of a drug overdose last week. The woman, sober now after spending a few days in jail, wrote that she realizes that she has been battling drug addiction for years, knows that she is very ill, and wants to take the opportunity to get better.

The woman is one of many people in the community who has lost a family member or a friend to the tragedy of a drug overdose or have found themselves facing criminal charges that are connected to their own addiction battle.

“Many overdoses and deaths that have occurred in the Minot area are linked directly to fentanyl,” wrote Plessas in the emailed interview. “Often, opiate users purchase the drugs under the false pretense that they are receiving heroin or Oxycodone. The only way for drug users to protect themselves is to stop using.”

Police have said that fentanyl is particularly dangerous, not only to users but also to police officers and other first responders who might be exposed at the scene of an overdose.

“Fentanyl is reportedly up to 50 times more potent than heroin,” said Plessas in the email. “As a result, we are concerned about the potential danger to first responders. Our officers are supplied with personal protective equipment to include gloves, N95 masks, and Tyvek ensembles. To date, our officers have not reported any exposures to fentanyl that required treatment.”

Officers have also saved the lives of some of the people who have overdosed.

“Our officers are equipped with Narcan to protect them from accidental exposure and to administer to victims of opioid overdoses,” said Plessas.

Narcan, which is also known as naloxone, is a medication that can temporarily reverse the results of an opioid overdose and restore normal breathing, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It usually works in two to five minutes, but the effects wear off and the person will still always require medical attention after the overdose. Naloxone can be administered via auto injection or nasal spray. Friends, family or others who administer naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose are protected from civil liability under state law.

Plessas said that officers have seen various drugs in overdose cases, but fentanyl is commonly part of the equation.

Plessas said officers want people to know that help is available.

“If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs, please seek help now,” he said in the email. “Call 211 for the Community Resource Helpline or 701-857-8500 for the 24-hour emergency Crisis Line. Calls are confidential and do not involve law enforcement.”

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