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Heroin overdoses on the rise in Rochester

Rochester authorities say they have seen a sharp increase in the number of heroin overdoses during the past year.

The latest incident happened Wednesday when a woman in her early 20s overdosed on the drug, according to Rochester Police Lt. Mike Sadauskis. She is expected to recover.

"We've seen an uptick in these (cases) in the last six months to a year," he said.

He estimates there have been roughly 15 heroin overdoses reported during the past year. Officers have also been arresting more people in possession of heroin during that time. In fact, the department sent out a warning to police officers to be careful when searching suspects because there is the potential they could have a hidden needle.

"We're starting to see more needles in the community where we didn't see them in the past," Sadauskis said.


So why the increase in heroin use? Sadauskis said it's part of a national trend. Production of opium is on the rise and making its way to the United States. The drug is also much more pure than it was back in the 1960s and 1970s when it became prevalent in the United States. That allows it to be snorted, which might entice some people to use it who would otherwise be turned off by the idea of having to inject it with a needle. He said they are also seeing a younger people using the drug. It's not uncommon for users to be in their early 20s.

A recent Minnesota Department of Human Services report found that the number of people being treated for heroin use has soared in the Twin Cities. In 2011, heroin accounted for nearly 11 percent of addiction treatment admissions compared to just more than 3 percent in 2000.

Local addiction treatment professionals say they have definitely noticed more people seeking help for heroin addiction. Sarah Lee, a supervisor at the Connections and Referral Unit at Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center, said that for a while they were seeing more people struggling with prescription drug addiction, but that has changed.

"We have seen that shift towards an increase of actual heroin use, and sometimes that is coupled with alcohol and other substances," she said.

She added that the withdrawal process for heroin addicts is particularly difficult, with patients experiencing intensified flu-like symptoms. The center provides a safe place for patients to detoxify and has started a women's treatment group focused on helping them overcome prescription drug and heroin addictions. She said it is important for individuals who go through detoxification to follow up with in-patient or out-patient therapy.

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