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Heroin makes its way to New Richmond

The heroin problem that struck Hudson over the past two years has made its way to New Richmond.

New Richmond Police Department officers encountered heroin for the first time within city limits this fall, according to New Richmond Police Chief Mark Samelstad. And it wasn’t an isolated incident.

Now Samelstad and Detective Veronica Koehler are working with school district officials and St. Croix County Public Health officials, as well as with other law enforcement agencies to help the community protect itself from deadly drugs.

“What piqued my interest in looking at this was this last fall we had two or three incidents where I saw the results come back from the crime lab from paraphernalia — needles or a spoon — where we got a positive test for heroin. That’s the first time that I had known that heroin had shown up in the city.”

After a December traffic stop in the city, the drug itself was found. Police arrested a suspect who was allegedly hiding multiple gem packs of the drug inside his body.

“He had three or four two-gram gem packs that tested positive for heroin,” Samelstad said.

A county crisis

St. Croix County has seen its share of problems with heroin since 2011, especially in Hudson where Police Chief Marty Jensen and Detective Geoff Willems have investigated more than 12 heroin overdose deaths. Willems said the county has investigated at least 35 heroin cases.

Last July, the Hudson community held a heroin forum that included presentations from law enforcement officials, public health officials, overdose victims’ families and recovering addicts. Event organizers were hoping for about 100 attendees, and more than 500 people showed up.

Samelstad is hoping to get proactive by organizing a similar event for the New Richmond community before overdose fatalities take place.

“I don’t want to focus just on heroin. I want to do a little more than what Hudson did,” Samelstad said. “It’s an educational thing, too. With the schools we want to give parents resources on where to go to get help. It’s more than just a law enforcement thing.”

Overdose danger

Though there has been several types of drugs in New Richmond, heroin poses a more serious concern.

“Heroin you see the overdoses on,” Koehler said. “With meth, it’s highly addictive, but it doesn’t carry the same type of issues as heroin. With heroin, the purity levels are quite high and that’s where the issues are coming from. People are using heroin after they’ve become addicted to pain medication, because it’s easier to get on some levels.”

Koehler said users take heroin not knowing how much the body can tolerate, and end up overdosing.

Another troubling aspect of the drug is that just about anyone can become an addict.

“I guess the things parents would have to look out for are changes in behavior, friends their kids are hanging out with, their appearance,” Koehler said.

Drugs at school

New Richmond School District Superintendent Jeff Moberg agrees, and suggests parents keep a look out for behavior that is out of the ordinary.

“You may notice changes in hygiene, social contacts, level of engagement in terms of communication, family engagement,” Moberg said. “They may be a little more withdrawn.”

Moberg says there haven’t been any heroin incidents in New Richmond schools, and he hopes to keep it that way.

“Hearing that it’s in the county and in the community, we also want to work with law enforcement and take a proactive stance and educate parents, staff and kids obviously on the dangers, what to look for, and where to go if you need support and help,” Moberg said.

Moberg said less than 3 percent of New Richmond high-schoolers reported using drugs other than alcohol, according to a school survey.

“Alcohol and prescription medications are probably still our most pressing issues,” Moberg said. “Even though it’s a small percentage, the danger level of things like heroin and meth are so high that it’s a concern.”

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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