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'Be Smart: Be Safe' - Ottertail hosts training, education on drugs

Thursday, March 22, the Ottertail Sheriff’s Operation Center hosted the Be Smart: Be Safe Opioids and Other Illegal Drugs event. Kaley Sievert/Daily Journal

First emergency responders and community members of Otter Tail County and the surrounding area gathered in Ottertail Thursday, March 22, to educate themselves further on the dangers of drug abuse. At the Ottertail Sheriff's Operation Center, key speakers were invited by the OTC Safe Communities Coalition to touch on important topics of interest surrounding drug trends, Narcan and how it works, situational awareness and much more.

Safe Communities Coalition coordinator, Jane Neubauer said although this coalition is primarily a traffic safety effort for the county, Thursday's training session fit in well with their efforts to reduce crashes throughout the county.

"Henning Police Chief Mike Helle came up to me last fall one day and said, 'Jane, we need to educate folks in our departments and communities on the serious risks that are out there with opioid use,'" Neubauer said. "Essentially, that fits really well with traffic safety, because it is far more than just DWIs. ... Everybody who is out there who are first responding to some of these incidents [drug related], they are essentially putting themselves at risk every time they walk into a potential drug situation."

Local drug trends

Jason Rosha was the first key speaker of the day, talking about Local Drug Trends: Opioids and other Illegal Drugs. Rosha is the commander of West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force and with the Alexandria Police Department. The task force covers six counties including Polk, Douglas, Wadena, Becker, Otter Tail and Grant.

In 2017, Rosha said the task force gathered data on the narcotics they confiscated within the six counties they cover. In that year, they seized a little over 1,400 grams of meth, 8,500 grams of marijuana along with over 200 plants, over 17,000 grams of marijuana edibles or THC edibles and 54 grams of heroin.

"We are already at 38 grams of heroin this year," Rosha said. "It has popped up that fast already."

Methamphetamine

According to Rosha, the biggest trend his task force is seeing in the area is a large reduction in local labs. Large quantities of meth are actually being manufactured in Mexico and the market is getting flooded, driving prices down.

"Meth has become relatively cheap so it is not worth the hassle of making it yourself anymore," Rosha said.

What is more common today for manufacturing meth locally is "Shake and Bake." Rosha said this term refers to when someone puts all the ingredients for meth into a pop bottle or Gatorade bottle, shaking the bottle to cause a chemical reaction and thus making a couple of grams of low-quality meth.

The majority of the meth seen within the area is brought here from the Twin Cities or Fargo/Moorhead area and in the form of crystalized shards or powder. Rosha said the most commonly transacted amount of meth is about an eight ball or an eighth of an ounce.

"But we started to see it shift," Rosha said. "About two years ago, a lot of buys were an eight ball and now it is two eight balls or an ounce."

The amount of meth an addict uses will vary according to Rosha, but generally about a gram a day is a decent estimate for someone who is a "true meth addict." Addicts will use meth in three ways: it is primarily smoked with a glass meth pipe, but can also be injected with a needle. Rosha said those are the two most common methods of meth use, but there is the rare occasion where an addict will eat it to avoid being charged with possession in Minnesota.

Heroin/Opiates

The heroin that is found around this area is traditionally in powder form and appears to be white or "China white." Rosha said a lot of it is coming from Chicago to the Twin Cities metro area and Duluth and into north, west Minnesota.

"The trend we are seeing here is that heroin is getting cut with stronger opioids, particularly fentanyl which is 30 — 50 times stronger than heroin and with carfentanil, which is a fentanyl analog 100 times stronger than heroin," Rosha said.

Fentanyl is a high-grade opiate for pain medication that Rosha said can generally be seen in hospice care in the form of fentanyl patches, similar to a nicoderm patch. Carfentanil can be used as a tranquilizer at a zoo. Rosha said, for instance, in order to perform surgery on an elephant, the zoo would use micrograms of carfentanil to knock it out.

The problem with this, is that counterfeit pills are also a rapidly growing trend, according to Rosha, and they are easy to conceal as an oxycodone pill or xanax with pill presses purchasable online. Making these pills can be dangerous, because there is no exact measurements on how much opiates are cut into the heroin.

"There is no exact science to fixing this stuff up," Rosha said. "It's like your grandma making cookies and you ask for the ingredients and she says, 'Oh, I don't know. You put a pinch of this and a touch of this.' You just throw it together and see what comes out. So, they might be getting all heroin in one batch and then the next time you go back, it's all fentanyl."

Although prescription pills and opioids are still abused in the area, Rosha said the situation has improved.

"In large part, that is due to the focus put on getting rid of old prescription medications and the creation of drop locations," Rosha said. "Those programs have made some good headway. From two years ago, the number of pills out there are not what they used to be."

According to a press release from the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department, the department has collected and destroyed over 4,597 pounds of unwanted prescription drugs with their "Take it to the Box," prescription drug collection program. They collected over 1,320 pounds of unwanted prescription drugs from across OTC in 2017.

Marijuana

"Especially among young adults and teenagers, marijuana is still the most commonly used or abused drug in our area," Rosha said.

Rosha said a large majority of the marijuana plant is being imported from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Edibles are primarily imported from Colorado and a few from California, if it is not made locally.

There is also a rapid growth in marijuana in the form of butane hash oil (BHO) or marijuana wax. In this form, Rosha said the marijuana is a lot more potent.

"Leaf marijuana on the street has 15-25 percent THC and medical grade will be 35 percent THC," Rosha said. "Wax can be as high as 95 percent. People are smoking this stuff in E-Cigs and Vape Pens."

After Rosha gave his presentation, a series of speakers followed, ending the day with a question and answer session including a panel of local experts and a final session on situational awareness.

Sponsors of the event were Chief Mike Helle of Henning Police department and Fire Department, the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education, M State, Otter Tail County Attorney's Office and the Safe Communities Coalition with partners Barb Felt, training coordinator for Perham Area EMS and Shannon Riggle, administrative coordinator for Fergus Falls Police Department.

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