BEMIDJI -- In recent months, the northwest region of Minnesota has seen opioid-related overdoses skyrocket.
Several local law enforcement agencies -- the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department, Red Lake Tribal Police, White Earth Tribal Police, Leech Lake Tribal Police and the Bemidji Police Department -- recently co-authored a press release, warning the public that many of these overdoses have been linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
Under the jurisdictions of these agencies, there have been 62 recorded overdoses since Dec. 1. Ten of those overdoses resulted in fatalities.
These statistics have blown recent months’ overdose numbers out of the water.
Back in July, the Pioneer reported another noted increase in overdoses in the area -- in the second quarter of 2020 -- April to June -- there were 36 overdoses in the region assisted by the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force. Of those, eight people died.
This is in contrast with 16 overdoses that the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force assisted with throughout all of 2019 -- although that number is likely lower due to a change in leadership in the PBDTF which changed the way overdoses are recorded and counted.
The release aimed to inform the public about the synthetic substance circulating through the area and laid out the signs that a loved one may be wrestling with an opioid addiction.
“We all recognize that addiction is real and powerful,” the release said. “Overdose deaths are preventable.”
The release reminded the public that area law enforcement officers carry naloxone -- also known as Narcan -- which can reverse the effects of an overdose, however, Narcan has not been known to reverse overdoses caused by fentanyl, which seems to make up a large amount of the area’s recent overdoses.
“The significant increase recently may be attributed to synthetic opioids or fentanyl which naloxone has little effect upon,” the release said.
Area law enforcement officers have saved more than 100 lives via administering Narcan since officers began carrying it, the release added.
“For family and friends of people who have opioid use disorder, it is important to know how to use naloxone, and keeping it within reach can save a life,” the release said. “Although we do not condone the use of illegal drugs, if you must use, make sure someone is with you.”
Anecdotally, drug-distribution-related arrests seem to have ticked up as well.
On Jan. 13, Darcie Isham, 28, Bemidji, was charged with felony narcotics sales in the third degree as well as fifth-degree drug possession, which includes any of the following: possession of any amount of a schedule I, II, III, or IV substance, like cocaine, crack, heroin, marijuana, meth, LSD, vicodin, or Xanax.
On Jan. 15, three people suspected of being involved in the possession and distribution of narcotics in the Bemidji area were also arrested.
Derek Kornezos, 44, and Taylor Morin, 24, of Bemidji, and Kelci Goggleye, 22, of Cass Lake, were arrested on charges of third-degree possession of narcotics in a school/park/public housing zone.
“While law enforcement works to find those people responsible for bringing these harmful drugs into our communities we also need help from the public to end these preventable tragedies,” the release said. “If you believe a family member may be abusing opioids, common symptoms of opioid abuse include drowsiness, uncontrollable cravings, frequent flu-like symptoms, change in sleep habit and isolation.
“You may notice small folds of tin foil, small plastic baggies, random prescribed pills or the disappearance of your own prescription medication. These observations should not be overlooked and you should seek help.”