Law enforcement officials note drug highly potent here
Edward Yaekle was addicted to heroin for more than 8 years. At one point, the Anoka resident spent $500 a day and eventually became a dealer.
Four years ago, he woke up in the Dakota County Jail for conspiracy to distribute heroin. Realizing the drug could kill him, Yaekle, now 44, sought treatment. And he stopped for good.
Yaekle's story could have ended tragically, as it has for other addicts.
Law enforcement officials said Tuesday that heroin use and overdose deaths have increased in the Twin Cities area at an unprecedented rate. Recent studies also have found heroin brought to Minnesota has the highest purity in the country, not to mention the lowest cost.
At a news conference, the Anoka County and Hennepin County sheriff's offices spoke of the "alarming" rate of heroin-related deaths in the past two years.
Between 2008 and November 2009, there were 36 fatalities in Anoka, Ramsey, Dakota and Hennepin counties.
Anoka County Sheriff Bruce Andersohn said five people died from heroin use in the county in the past two years, whereas there were no deaths the previous three years, possibly even longer. "The resurgence of heroin cases is alarming," he said.
According to a Minnesota Department of Human Services report released last summer, heroin found in Minneapolis had the highest purity level — almost 60 percent — than any other city in the United States. In addition, law enforcement officials said Tuesday that one-tenth of a gram of heroin, or about two uses, costs $50 in the metro area. They say the cost is much lower than for addictive painkillers such as oxycodone. As a result, addicts sometimes turn to opiates such as heroin.
As that happens, counties are seeing more heroin abuse and overdose cases.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek noted 16 heroin-related deaths during the past two years and an increasing number of heroin-related arrests and seizures. "We're seeing Hennepin County as a growing concern," he said.
Officials say much of the heroin in Minnesota likely comes from Mexico and southern border states. The higher potency rate could be accidental or intentional to bring on addiction.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, heroin cases — including emergency-room visits, those seeking treatment and overdose deaths — have increased, while methamphetamine and cocaine cases have decreased or held steady since 2006. The number of admissions for heroin treatment and other opiates has more than doubled to almost 2,500 cases since 2002.
"Heroin in particular is a threat because of its highly addictive and high overdose potential. ... I don't think we've seen this degree of heroin use and addiction in the Twin Cities before," said Carol Falkowski, director of the department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. "Even experienced heroin users cannot tell the purity of heroin by its appearance, so they always run the risk of accidentally overdosing."
Yaekle doesn't want heroin to take over the lives of others as it did his, so he has set up a Web site sharing his story and responds to every e-mail from concerned family members and drug users seeking advice on how to quit.
He tells families a sign someone is addicted is catching him or her in lies in order to hide using, obtain money or gain a place to stay.
For users, he recommends a long-term detox program. "Long-term is important," he said. "Once you get rid of the initial withdrawals, the cravings don't dissipate for a couple of months."
Yaekle regrets deceiving friends and family and that he wasn't there for his kids. To this day, one of his daughters won't speak to him.
"You'll steal, you'll cheat, you'll rob. There are things I've done, relationships that I've ruined that I can never repair," he said. "I want to take all of those negative experiences and do something positive with it. I want people who are addicted to get better."
For more information on heroin and its impact, call the Anoka County sheriff's office at 763-323-5000 or the Hennepin County sheriff's Tip Line at 888-988-TIPS or go to stopheroin.net.