#10: Drugs were a growing problem in North Dakota in 2017

The drug problem in Minot is on display every day at the Ward County Courthouse, in the endless parade of people charged with drug dealing or drug possessions, in thefts to support their habit, in the partners they have assaulted while high on drugs and in the children who have been neglected and sent to foster care because their parents are too high to take care of them.

Some schools in the area, like police officers, are now supplied with Narcan so they can revive the victims of a potential overdose should it become necessary.

Resources are stretched, sometimes to the breaking point, and judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys are left with imperfect solutions to combat the problem, as happened on a day in mid-December, when North Central District Court Judge Todd Cresap was faced with what he said were two lousy choices.

A young woman with a history of drug addiction was back in his court, asking for another chance. She curled up on a bench, with her boyfriend’s arm settled around her, as she waited for her hearing. On the stand, she told the judge how much she had hated being in the Ward County Jail and how terrified she was to go back there.

She was waiting for a bed to open up at a treatment center, but it would be weeks or months before she had a spot. In the meantime, she kept screwng up – a relapse last spring, kicked out of a drug treatment program in Fargo for multiple write-ups and disputes with other residents. Her probation officer felt she had no other recourse but to send her back to jail. It was her best chance at achieving an extended period of sobriety.

But the woman was trying again to get things together, was working and living with her boyfriend. Should Cresap send her back to jail to give her a chance to stay sober or should he let her stay free while she was waiting for the treatment bed, knowing there was a chance she might keep using drugs?

The woman’s probation officer had a drug testing kit in her car in the courthouse parking lot. Cresap told the probation officer to test the young woman right then and there, in the courthouse bathroom. Minutes later they came back to the courtroom. The probation officer said her client had broken down and admitted to using drugs the previous night, even though she had just testified otherwise on the stand.

Judge Cresap revoked her probation and sent her to jail until the treatment bed opened up.

The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office reported last year that the number of people jailed in the state for drug or alcohol offenses had more than doubled in the past five years. Meth violations quintupled from 2010 to 2015 and people arrested for heroin violations increased by 4,300 percent. For people like the young woman in Cresap’s court, sobriety can be a matter of life and death.

The Center for Disease Control reported a 21 percent increase in overdose deaths in the state from May 2016 to May 2017.