Our View: Meth, heroin are making disturbing comebacks
Part of the recent nationwide discussion about legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use has included ramped-up debate about the necessity and effectiveness of the so-called "war on drugs" — and the motives for continuing it. Some readers of this newspaper have suggested to us Minnesota law enforcement agencies oppose medical marijuana because any step toward legalization might cut into the "business" of arresting, convicting, fining and imprisoning marijuana sellers and users.
Frankly, we wish that were true. We wish the battle against the sale and use of illegal drugs were going so well that Minnesota law enforcement agencies actually were feeling the need to defend their turf — and their job security — by opposing any breach in the state's firewall against marijuana.
Sadly, that is not the case. If marijuana were fully decriminalized tomorrow, there's no reason to believe law enforcement agencies across Minnesota would need to reallocate their personnel or downsize their forces. If the Twin Cities metro area is a reliable barometer of what's happening in the rest of Minnesota — or what's going to happen — then we're likely to need even more resources in the war against drugs that are killing Minnesotans and destroying countless families.
This month saw the release of a biannual report, "Drug Abuse Trends in Minneapolis/St. Paul: January 2014 Update." It's a compilation of data from poison control centers and state and county law-enforcement and health officials, and it provides a clear snapshot of the types of drugs that are pouring into the state's biggest population center, as well as the toll those drugs are taking.
The trend line is disturbing.
For example, Ramsey County saw 69 opiate-related overdose deaths in just the first half of 2013, compared to just 84 in all of 2012. Heroin is the prime culprit, and in that same time period, nearly 24 percent of all people admitted to treatment centers were hooked on opiates. That's the highest level ever reported, and the number of emergency room visits related to heroin and prescription painkillers has nearly tripled since 2006.
Then there's methamphetamine.
Remember meth, that drug made famous by the blockbuster AMC television series "Breaking Bad"? Remember when it seemed that every abandoned trailer in rural Minnesota was a meth lab? Remember when deer hunters were being told to watch out for these dangerous sites, and landlords were worried they would be charged thousands of dollars when HAZMAT teams had to clean up the rental home in which a tenant had been cooking meth?
Well, the battle against Minnesota-made meth achieved a certain level of success in the past decade, in part because of restrictions on the sale of nonprescription cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine.
But today, meth use is on the rise in the metro area, as seen in an increase in drug seizures and admissions for treatment. Nearly a third of all metro drug seizures in the first half of 2013 involved meth, and if the current trend line holds true, more than 2,000 people will seek treatment for meth addiction in the metro area this year — far more that will seek similar treatment for cocaine addiction.
(For those who would prefer Minnesota to follow Colorado's example regarding recreational use of marijuana, we should point out that in Minneapolis/St. Paul, no drug caused as many ER visits or treatment-center admissions last year than marijuana did, and it wasn't even close.)
Plenty of people will see this report as further proof that the war on drugs is failing, and we won't argue with them. When the most tangible proof of "success" in this war is the burgeoning prison population, something is amiss.
But that doesn't mean the war should be abandoned, that we should open the floodgates and say "Anything goes!" Law enforcement agencies should and will continue to battle the constantly evolving drug trade, doing everything possible to limit the flow of illegal substances into Minnesota.
Their efforts, unfortunately, are strictly on the "supply" side of the equation — and the crux of the problem, today as always, is on the "demand" side.