Increase in overdoses draws concern from Albert Lea PD

Published 11:12 am Friday, August 26, 2022

The Albert Lea Police Department has seen an increase in overdoses among young adults since late July, half of which have been deadly.

The department posted on its Facebook page on Thursday it has responded to four overdoses of people between 16 and 27 in that time frame, two of which resulted in death. In the other two cases, the individuals were saved using Narcan, a medication used for the emergency treatment of suspected opioid overdose.

Ben Johnson, commander of the South Central Drug Investigative Unit, said the overdoses in the region are primarily coming from fentanyl in fake unregulated pills made to look like legitimate prescription pills. Authorities are also seeing heroin and carfentanil overdoses, he said.

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The overdoses are something that the area before hadn’t seen in the high numbers that were being reported in other parts of the country and the world, but the numbers now are on the rise, Johnson said.

“We’ve seen a pretty steady increase, and now it seems like it’s climbing,” he said. “It’s something we’ve expected.”

He said the fentanyl pills are made in labs — made to look like opioids such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Valium, Xanax and Adderall, among others —and are most commonly stamped in China, smuggled in to Central America and then moved in to the United States through Mexico, he said. What makes them especially problematic is that there is no consistency from batch to batch — or pill to pill — making it so someone might be able to take a certain amount of the substance one day but then get a different pill the next day that has a different amount of the drug in it and ultimately overdose.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency testing reveals that four out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contains a potentially lethal dose, and in the last 12 months, more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States have been reported — the most ever recorded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said the people who are purchasing the pills are typically aware of what they are.

“That’s part of the problem with addiction — the people who are addicted … you build a tolerance for it.”

He said there could be several reasons why the prevalence among young adults, particularly, is increasing, including the connections youth can now have on the internet throughout the country and the world, as well as the reduced price.

When he first started working in narcotics, drugs were very expensive, he said. He estimated the cost of a pound of meth to have reduced by more than half in his time in the field.

“Drugs are just pouring in here from our southern border,” he said.

While it will be difficult to deter people from seeking these pills, Johnson said one thing family members and friends can do is watch for behavior changes of their loved ones.

“That’s a way of saving some lives,” he said.

He advised parents to look for behavior changes in their children, such as losing interest in things they had previously had an interest in, and being aware of items missing in your house that might be sold or pawned for money.

They should also take note of youth using street names for pills.

He directed parents to visit and educate themselves about the issue. The website shows images of authentic and fake pills and how similar they can look.

Johnson declined to identify how many investigations are ongoing in the south-central region tied to overdoses noting the investigations were still ongoing.

The Albert Lea Police Department said on its Facebook page if anyone has information related to these investigations, they should call the department at 507-377-5780.