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Understanding Opiates: Monday night forum draws big crowd to M State

"This is truly a war we're fighting."

Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander didn't mince words during his brief presentation as part of a panel of speakers at Monday night's "Understanding Opiates" forum on the campus of M State-Detroit Lakes.

And judging by the crowd that filled the M State conference center for the two-hour forum, local residents agreed with him.

Glander noted that heroin usage has become an epidemic in the region.

"Take away one (supplier) and two more come up," he added, highlighting the fact that out of 77 felony drug cases that have come through the local court system so far this year, 16 were heroin-related.

One particularly disturbing trend, Glander noted, is the increased use of the opioids fentanyl and carfentanyl.

Fentanyl is 40-50 times stronger than street-grade heroin, he noted, while carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

"Dealers use it to enhance the effects of heroin," Glander added.

What makes these particular forms of opioid so dangerous to law enforcement, said West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force member Jason Rosha, is that exposure to even the tiniest amount of the drug can be lethal — even to police K9 "sniffer dogs" when they breathe it in during a drug search.

"We're starting to see some mixtures of meth and opiates," Rosha added, noting that while it is extremely dangerous, the anecdotally "greater high" that chronic users receive is often too attractive to resist.

Fentanyl and carfentanil mixtures are particularly deadly, he said.

One of the reasons why sales are becoming so much more common in rural Minnesota now, Rosha said, is that while a gram of heroin will sell for $150-$250 in this area, "you can get it for less than half that in the metro areas."

In other words, it's a lot more profitable for drug dealers to bring their product to the rural areas.

Fortunately, the Detroit Lakes community has a variety of resources available to help those who become addicted to heroin and other opiates: Monday's speakers included representatives from a variety of inpatient and outpatient-based treatment programs, support groups and related services, including: Krystal Ramirez from Drake Counseling Services; Heather Penfield from Becker County Human Services' chemical dependency program; Angie Horner, one of two chemical dependency counselors at Detroit Lakes Public Schools; Ron Royer from the Compassion House, a faith-based, residential treatment program for men; Bernardo Magney from the White Earth Substance Abuse Treatment Program; Monica McConkey from Prairie St. John's; Joe Johnson from The FATHER Project; and Lindsay Adams from the Naytahwaush-based Maternal Outreach & Mitigation Services (MOMS) program, which deals specifically with pregnant women who are recovering addicts.

Longtime Frazee firefighter — and recovered meth addict — Scott Geiselhart also shared a message of hope: One night three years ago, he was so far gone in his addiction that he took out his gun, put it to his head and pulled the trigger. When it didn't go off, he decided it was time to reach out and get some help — and today he no longer feels the pull of the addiction that had ruled his life for so many years.

"It's been three years since I've done meth, it's been three years since I've been angry, it's been three years since I've had a nightmare," Geiselhart said, referring to the fact that most of his problems stemmed from an undiagnosed case of PTSD for which he has since sought, and gotten, treatment.

"I feel amazing now," he said, adding, "I can see the colors in the trees. I can feel again."

Geiselhart also cautioned, however, that he couldn't have gotten to this point if he hadn't "reached out and got some help."

He said that EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy was particularly helpful for him. "After that first session I walked away from meth," he said, and he hasn't thought about suicide since that aborted attempt in 2014.

"There's a way out, there's hope," he said, adding that his success has led to him being sought out as an inspirational speaker, on a national level. "I love helping people. I don't want anyone else to be where I was."

Lakes Counseling Center director Ed Pachel noted that while meth and opioid addiction "is a really big problem in our community," it's a problem that has a solution.

"There's tremendous hope with this illness," he added, stating that the idea that the only those who want to get better can overcome their addiction is "a lot of bull" — at least in the initial phases of treatment.

"Well over 90 percent of the folks we see in treatment didn't want to be there, and are only there because of outside pressure," Pachel said.

If the patient still doesn't want to get better by the time the initial treatment process is over, he admitted, then yes, their likelihood of relapse is quite high — but "just because someone has a relapse, that doesn't automatically mean they're headed back to prison."

In fact, Pachel added, "it's often the start of something much more positive." He also noted that "the longer you can keep someone engaged in (rehabilitative) services, the better the chance they will have at recovery."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454
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