Community forum on drug abuse Thursday

Drug abuse, overdose deaths on the rise in Washington County

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said most people conjure up images in their minds as to what a typical junkie looks like -- thin, weathered, sickly, and lurking in the shadows of an alley somewhere in the inner city.

But Hutton said today’s drug abuser frequently doesn’t fit that stereotype.

“What we’re seeing is pretty alarming and scary. Today’s addict comes from every slice of life, from every neighborhood and every socioeconomic status.”

The recent increase in drug abuse among young people, ages 16 to 36, has reached “epidemic proportions,” Hutton said, and a community forum has been scheduled at the Tartan High School Auditorium Thursday, April 9, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to talk more about the growing problem taking place in Washington County and across the east metro suburbs.

Hutton, Sgt. Mike Benson from the Washington County Drug Task Force, county attorney Pete Orput and several other speakers will be on hand to discuss warning signs parents should look for and resources available to those already struggling with drug addiction.

Hutton, a former Oakdale police detective, said narcotics have always been a problem in his over 30-year career in law enforcement and said drug abuse remains the No. 1 driver of all crimes in the U.S.

He said a recent spike in fatal, opiate-related overdoses is alarming. There have been at least seven deaths attributed to opiates in Washington County already this year.

The use of heroin has made a huge come back, Hutton added. “Almost every individual, about 90 percent, started their journey to heroin with pharmaceuticals.”

Hutton said the easy access to powerful and addictive painkillers such as oxycodone, Percocet and Vicodin is unnerving.

“The U.S. makes up about 4 or 4 1/2 percent of the world’s population yet consumes over 45 percent of all medications.”

He said these types of medications are often prescribed for people who have had minor medical procedures or experience chronic pain. Many individuals take a few pills and leave the unused portion in their medicine cabinets, where family and friends can access them.

The sheriff said most young people don’t just wake up one day and decide they want to become a drug addict. It happens gradually. He said opiate-based drugs are highly addictive and once someone is hooked, they are hard to walk away from. Many suburbanites have turned to street drugs like heroin to get their fix, which is often cheaper and easier to acquire.

In an effort to limit access to the prescription drugs that can lead to drug abuse, the county has installed three year-round collection drop boxes for people to dispose of unused or expired medications.  Those drop boxes are located at the Washington County Headquarters Service Center in Forest Lake, the Washington County Service Center in Cottage Grove and Law Enforcement Center in Stillwater.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department safely disposed of a staggering 14,920 pounds of medications collected from these drop boxes over the past three years.

Hutton said law enforcement officers would also be on hand at the community forum at Tartan to collect unused medications anonymously on Thursday.

Another topic of discussion at the forum will be the relatively recent emergence of synthetic drugs such as 25i-NBOMe, a psychedelic that killed a Woodbury High School girl in 2014.

Hutton said many of these types of drugs are sold illegally online, and have become popular among young people.

The community forum on teen/young adult drug abuse is free and open to the public.

Tartan High School Auditorium is located at 828 Greenway Ave. N. in Oakdale.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7822.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here