MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It's a troubling trend and a warning for parents: There was a record number of deaths connected to heroin overdose in Hennepin County last year.
Fifty-four people died in 2013, that's up substantially from eight deaths in 2010, the year law enforcement noticed an upward trend.
"Local law enforcement has been watching this trend for the past several years," said Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek.
Four years ago, heroin users began making headlines.
"Here we are four years later, 2013 comes to an end, I had 54 heroin related deaths in this county alone. Fifty-four, every single one of them was preventable," the sheriff said.
Stanek says the dramatic increase could be connected to the abuse of prescription painkillers.
"What we're seeing is when they no longer can get access to prescription painkillers, they turn to heroin," Stanek said. "It's the same, opiate-based. In some cases, it's cheaper than trying to get prescription pain pills."
Cmdr. Catherine Johnson with the Minneapolis Police Department says the age of users is getting younger and they are using the drug differently: some are snorting it, others are ingesting it.
"I think the most important thing is for parents to be involved and be aware of who their kids' friends are," Johnson said.
She says parents should listen to their children. If they are using unfamiliar slang words and acting out of character, it's time to have that talk.
"We want to take the drugs off the streets, we want to eliminate any violence associated with some of the drug dealing, but most importantly we want to take those kids that we can save and save them," Johnson said.
Stanek says that if you look at jail populations, what they are coming in for and what drugs they are testing positive for, it shows just how big of a problem heroin is becoming.
"Likewise, we've seen the same trend in the other metro counties and state wide," Stanek said.
The sheriff says heroin in Minneapolis is pure, more so than in any other Midwestern city, because dealers want to get users hooked, so the demand and profits are greater.
Stanek hopes lawmakers will allow first responders to carry a lifesaving antidote, called Narcan. It can help reverse the effects of an opiate overdose and give them time to get people to the hospital before it's too late.
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