- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Some states, including North Dakota, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in North Dakota:

THE PROBLEM:

Once thought by North Dakotans to be only a big city drug, heroin sales and use are increasing in the state, authorities say. U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon called the spike in heroin use in North Dakota “new and disturbing.” He said it’s the result of the abuse of prescription painkillers, a growing population and drug trafficking operations that are primarily targeting the state’s rich oil patch region.

“When you have an increased population with a lot of money, it’s a more desirable market for drug dealers to move into,” Purdon said. “They follow the money.”


North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said there also have been spikes in heroin sales in recent years in eastern North Dakota.

THE NUMBERS:

Only two overdose deaths have been attributed to heroin in North Dakota between 2008-2012, the latest dates for which figures are available, according to the state Department of Human Services.

There were only two people charged with heroin-related federal crimes from 2003-2011. In 2012, there were 13. Last year, there were 57 people charged with heroin drug crimes in the state, including 42 in two different indictments alleging conspiracy to sell heroin and other drugs on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation in the heart of North Dakota’s oil patch.

No one sought treatment for heroin abuse in North Dakota in 2005, Department of Human Services data show. Last year, 37 North Dakotans sought treatment for heroin abuse, up from 16 in 2011, data show.

SOLUTIONS:

Stenehjem has said a new special prosecutor who will handle nothing but drug cases is being placed in the state’s oil patch.

North Dakota also is pushing a program that collects unused medication to help fight the abuse of prescription painkillers, which is fueling the market for heroin, a cheaper and more readily available alternative.

Purdon called prescription drug abuse a “deadly step on a journey that starts at your family’s medicine cabinet and ends in the morgue.”