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St. Paul police, Washington County Sheriff's Office issue alerts after spike in overdoses

June 05, 2019 10:58 PM

St. Paul police issued a public safety "OD Alert" on Wednesday after the department said five people overdosed on what is suspected to be heroin in a span of 36 hours.

The overdoses happened in four different locations:
• The 1900 block of Cottage Street East
• Near the intersection of Dale Street North and Carroll Avenue
• On the 600 block of Western Avenue North
• Two on the 1200 block of Randolph Avenue

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Investigators believe all five incidents are linked to a "bad batch" of suspected heroin, the department said, which means it's laced with other illicit chemicals that make them even more hazardous and deadly.

“It’s very serious, it's a public health issue,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster. “We're trying to do everything we can to get the word out and let people know.”

Related: Police use new technology to identify victims, drugs after weekend overdoses in South St. Paul

Due to the spike in overdoses, the department is warning people and asking community members to take the following steps:

  • Call 911 immediately if they or someone they know is experiencing an overdose; 
  • Administer naloxone (Narcan) to people experiencing a suspected overdose;
  • Share this information with anyone they know who uses heroin; and 
  • Seek help for opioid addiction through a chemical dependency treatment center. 

The department is also reminding people about Minnesota's "Good Samaritan Law," which protects people from being charged or prosecuted if they act in good faith while seeking medical assistance for another person experiencing a drug-related overdose.

It's the first time the department has issued an "OD Alert" since it began using a new tool known as OD Map.

Officers with the Community Outreach and Stabilization Unit will also be visiting areas of the city where heroin use is common, informing people about overdose risks and offering information about chemical dependency resources, the department said. The goal of issuing the alert is to help ensure that people who struggle with heroin and opioid addiction live to seek help for their addictions.

The overdoses come just days after six people were hospitalized for suspected overdoses in South St. Paul. A responding officer was also hospitalized for exposure.

“They could be connected, there's no way for us to know,” said Sgt. Ernster.

Just hours after St. Paul Police issued its alert on Wednesday, the Washington County Sheriff’s office gave its own.

The sheriff's office reports four overdose deaths in the last two weeks, including two in the past 24 hours.

Sheriff Dan Starry released a statement that said, “Though one death is too many, this spike in overdoses and related deaths is truly concerning, especially considering how significantly it is affecting the young adults in our community. As with every overdose death, I have directed our Drug Task Force to use every available resource in an attempt to find those responsible for spreading this deadly substance.”

According to Sheriff Starry, Naloxone was also used by deputies four times in the past two weeks to revive people suffering from a potential overdose.

The sheriff’s office also uses ODMap to keep track of overdose spikes.

The agency believes the overdoses “could be contributed to potent heroin or other narcotics mixed with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid. Official reports in the coming weeks will determine if the recent deaths can be contributed to opioids or synthetic opioids.”

Local law enforcement are dealing with the spike as James Carroll, the director of the Office of National Drug Control, is in the Twin Cities.

“This is a crisis,” he said.

Carroll made the trip to give a commencement address to Pease Academy graduates. The recovery high school in Minneapolis is celebrating 30 years. 12 students graduated on Wednesday.

Now, Carroll plans to stay an extra day to join a round table to talk about these overdoses with U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald, law enforcement and community leaders and members.

“And see what can be done at the federal level to give more resources to the community,” said Carroll.

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that 14 organizations in the Twin Cities have received grant money for drug prevention. It’s part of the Drug-Free Communities program.

“To make sure kids under the age of 18 are getting the message about how dangerous these opioids, especially fentanyl, are,” said Carroll.

Community outreach and education is one of three areas he’s targeting from Washington.

“We have to stop the flow of drugs coming into this country,” said Carroll. “The drugs that are killing Americans, almost all of them are coming in from outside the United States. We also have to make sure that people who suffer from the disease of addiction get treatment.”

“We cannot stop, we have to be relentless.”

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Callan Gray

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