Hooked on heroin: Minnesota sees soaring rates of use

7:22 AM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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MOUND, Minn. - It's cheap, easy to get and as a result, Minnesota officials say heroin abuse is out of control.

They now consider the problem as one of their top priorities. They say more people are addicted, arrests are soaring and there's even talk of legislation to help fight the battle.

"This is an epidemic of consequences, of addiction, of overdose and of death," explained Carol Falkowski, of Drug Abuse Dialogues, a Minnesota-based business that delivers educational training workshops about drug abuse.

Someone who knows firsthand about the reality of the problem is 20-year-old Emily Hanus, of Mound.

"Once I started heroin, everything just fell apart." said Emily. "All I cared about was getting high."

She says her addiction to heroin nearly killed her.

"I was that sick and messed up in the head that me literally being dead wasn't enough for me to stop," described Emily.

Years before, Emily would find herself in the emergency room, as the makings of her addiction were taking hold.

"I started doing pills, started doing ecstasy, eventually it led to heroin. It caught up with me so fast, I didn't see it coming," she explained.

Neither did her father, Mark Hanus, who says his daughter was constantly gone from the family and stealing from them. At one point, he and his wife had to kick their daughter out of the house because of it.

"I just felt like dirt having to do it. It was horrible. It was a horrible feeling," said Hanus.

It was difficult in many ways dealing with this private problem, especially since he lives a public life. Hanus is Mound's mayor.

"At the time you, you always second guess yourself and just don't know if you're doing the right thing," said Hanus.

"If we're talking about prescription opiate abuse, it can happen anywhere and it very often leads to heroin addiction," explained Falkowski.

Falkowski is a nationally recognized drug expert and she has kept track of Minnesota's drug trends for the last three decades. She said she has seen a startling trend over the years, amplified this year, and it's one that goes far beyond the small town of Mound.

"The number of people coming into treatment for addiction to heroin and other opiates is now second only to people coming in for treatment for alcohol. This has never before been the case," Falkowski said.

Falkowski says that prescription drug abuse often leads to heroin, and she says the two accounted for more than 21 percent of all treatment admissions in 2012. Heroin accounts for 12.5 percent, a number that has quadrupled since 2000.

And perhaps the most troubling statistic, according to the Department of Public Safety's annual report on drug crime, is that kids and young adults, ages 16 to 25 years old, are the ones getting hooked.

"A person can get introduced to heroin on the streets of Minneapolis for as little as $10. Most people don't realize that and it's never before been the case," said Falkowski

Another problem is painkillers, which are often just a cabinet away. It's why the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department has a number of boxes stationed throughout the county where people can drop off their left over prescription pills.

"Every person in Minnesota should be asking the legislature where is the movement on this," said Falkowski.

Falkowski and others are asking for more this legislative session. They want legislation that requires doctors to get more training on spotting addiction, as well as a requiring them to participate in the prescription-monitoring program so they know what history patients have with drugs before prescribing any more.

"Not all doctors are enrolled, not even half of all doctors are enrolled. We need to do better," said Falkowski.

"We've been sounding this alarm for the last several years," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

Stanek says kids are doing whatever they can to get money to get the drugs, which is why he says we're seeing more crime in places that aren't used to it.

"What we're seeing is a number of different burglaries, thefts," added Stanek.

In fact, the Orono Police Department, which also serves Mound, estimates burglaries rose about 20-25 percent in the past year, which officials believe is drug-related.

Getting caught was what made Emily Hanus change.

While her parents were out of town last May, she was arrested for breaking into their house, hoping to steal her mom's car to drive to Minneapolis to get high.

Hanus and his wife were given the option to prosecute their own daughter, which they reluctantly did.

"It would likely end up doing hard time in prison. That's not an easy question for a parent," explained Hanus.

And it proved to be the right answer. Through the courts, Emily found her way to Adult and Teen Challenge, and she says because of extensive therapy and a focus on her faith she's been sober now for nine months.

"Thirty days after she was here, she was a completely different person," described Hanus.

"This whole time I thought he hated me and was out to get me. Now, I see he was really trying something new to get me to move forward in life," said Emily.

And their goal now is to show others they can move forward, too, and that even a mayor's family can find itself struggling with addiction.

"You'd never guess it, but it's out there," said Mayor Hanus.


If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate addiction and need help now:

1. Arrange for a chemical health assessment with you county human services agency -- In Minnesota, public funds are available for low income persons needing addiction treatment.  In order to access these funds, a person must start with a "chemical health assessment," also known as a "Rule 25 assessment." To start the process you need to contact your local county human services agency and ask to talk with someone about a "Rule 25 assessment."

2. Look for addiction treatment programs near you. Directly contact a treatment program and explain the situation. They can help you determine effective next steps.

3. Resources for recovery support:

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