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Drugs still a problem in the Bakken since oil boom

Drug syringe and cooked heroin on spoon

DICKINSON, N.D. — Bakken oil may have gone into a downturn in the last few years, but that doesn't mean that drug crime did too.

Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said the number of cases his office has taken since the oil boom has not changed or diminished, and meth-related crimes are the most common.

"Methamphetamine use in western North Dakota is epidemic and has been for 10 years," he said.

According to crime data from the North Dakota Attorney General's Office, there were 1,958 arrests related to amphetamine and methamphetamine use in North Dakota in 2016, up significantly from 2012 when there were 434 arrests related to the drug. Each year those numbers have continued to rise.

In 2016, 673 of amphetamine/methamphetamine arrests came in the West Central region, which includes Burleigh, Emmons, Grant, Kidder, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Oliver, Sheridan and Sioux counties. An additional 370 arrests were made by drug task forces around the state, 51 of which came in the Dickinson area and 65 in the Minot area. There were also 289 amphetamine/methamphetamine arrests in the southeast part of the state last year, 282 of which came from Cass County alone, according to crime statistics data.

Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich said law enforcement is doing everything they can to combat the ongoing drug problems in the area, whether through their own investigations or by giving information to the Southwest Narcotics Task Force.

"It can start with a traffic stop, it can start with a burglary or a theft investigation because if you're addicted to these drugs you can't make enough money at a regular job to pay for your habit," Oestreich said.

Many crimes in the county are tied back to drugs on some level, he said.

"That's a lot of our smaller thefts and burglaries where they're kind of low key and that's certainly drug related," Oestreich said.

Heroin and other opiates

Heroin and other opiates like fentanyl have also began to pop up in the area, causing overdoses and potentially one death in the past month.

"We're seeing overdoses on a far more frequent basis," Henning said. "Before heroin showed up we had a meth epidemic as far as I'm concerned and that continues, but there must have been a time where methamphetamine was so expensive here that other marketers felt that there must have been a market for heroin."

Henning added they "believe the users are seeking a combination that puts them at death's door," at least from a few instances that they have had come through their office.

"As I understand it from people more experienced than I (am), these addicts are desirous, particularly the heroin addicts, of getting as close to the edge of death that they can," Henning said. "They're willing to even use from suppliers who have apparently supplied to people who've overdosed."

Oestreich said all his officers carry Narcan in case they have to respond to an overdose.

"A lethal dose (of fentanyl) is equal to two grains of salt," he said. "So you just really don't know, if you're using heroin or meth, how much fentanyl is mixed in there and in some cases it might be pure fentanyl that they think is heroin, that's when they end up overdosing."

Henning said it is alarming to see these types of cases roll through his office because it is starting to reach a younger and younger users.

"The adult people that are using this are not capable of using good judgement to have some thought that adolescents would have some idea what they're risking is asinine," he said. "... To have that kind of stuff available out in the community is frightening."

Though meth is still prevalent and makes up a majority of drug-related crime in North Dakota at a state and federal level, U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Chris Myers said opiates and fentanyl are also proving to be a problem in the state.

According to the crime data, there were 300 heroin related arrests in North Dakota in 2016. About a third, 109, of those arrests were made by task forces and another third came from the Southeast and Western Central jurisdictions, with 58 and 59 arrests, respectively.

In June Myers office announced that 37 individuals over the last two years have been charged or sentenced with heroin and/or fentanyl related crimes in federal court in North Dakota.

"We have prosecuted more fentanyl-related cases in federal court in North Dakota in the past two years than in the previous 10 years combined," Myers said Friday, Oct 20.

There are a number of reasons why the fentanyl-related cases have gone up, including "aggressively targeting opiate traffickers whose product causes serious bodily harm or death," he said.

With the introduction of substances like fentanyl, carfentanil, and their analogues into the local drug market, Myers said the level of risk to users, or even those people inadvertently exposed, has increased dramatically.

"The opiate epidemic is a healthcare crisis in North Dakota, as well as across the United States," he said. "With so many people addicted to these substances, the demand created makes it a lucrative endeavor for drug trafficking organizations."

Oestreich said it is important to educate young adults and kids about how dangerous drugs are and what it can do to your life.

"It's not a pleasant life," he said. "It might seem that way the first time you're getting high but it means you can't hold a decent job down. It means your dreams of success are going to go out the window. We have to educate our kids on how serious this is."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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