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West Fargo, ND, Pushes to Curb Skyrocketing Drug Overdoses

You’d think that someone who had just overdosed on a drug and would have died had someone not been there with Narcon would have a wake-up call. Time to quit – next time it happens there might not be any Narcon close enough to save your life. But although Narcon has saved many lives, the overdose is rarely taken seriously enough to get an addict to quit drugs – which is why North Dakota’s West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan, is trying to find a way to make more treatment available.

The attitude in West Fargo used to lead addicts and people involved in drug-related crime straight to jail. But now, even though the police are still putting some people in jail and strategizing to lower supply and so on, they’ve pumped up the other side of the problem – they want to help people, and thereby reduce demand.

But what if there’s no place to send addicts for help? West Fargo doesn’t have enough long-term drug rehabilitation facilities, and they’re short on addiction counselors.

The town has a needle exchange program and another program to teach people to use Naloxone, but there have been problems about bringing those resources to the area.

Also, two bills introduced to encourage and incentivize people to become addiction counselors have failed. The police chief is expecting the bills will be introduced again this coming session.

Another bill, SB 2160, designed to create an information hub – in which a variety of groups would collect, share and analyze data about overdoses, also failed in the House by a fairly large margin last April.

Overall, it appears there are a lot of people – or a few very influential people – who are trying to put a stop to anything to do with reducing the number of addicts, being able to collect and analyze data about them, and about drug rehab.

That’s not that uncommon. Some people have problems with invading privacy by making data available. Others have the idea that if you add (or have) drug treatment resources, you’re going to attract addicts who will then make the town’s situation worse.

Also, when you live in an area that doesn’t have a heavy drug problem itself but is close to areas that do, people are afraid that the addicts from other areas will come to the better area for treatment. And of course some addicts stick to treatment while others stop treatment and wind up as a drug addict in the street. And that’s how the addict population grows.

But overdoses are skyrocketing in the area. In March, paramedics with F-M (Fargo Moorhead) Ambulance used Narcan 10 times while responding to suspected overdoses. The total in all of 2015 was only 57. Which means the area is headed for more than double the overdoses of last year. And that’s just the ones that F-M Ambulance responds to.

In fact, it may be even higher. Mid March there were three overdoses in one week – despite the high availability of Narcan.

The drugs in the area are also getting more deadly. Heroin suppliers are suspected of adding Fentanyl to heroin to make the possibility of overdose even greater. Although the ‘high’ from Fentanyl isn’t as intense as heroin, it is actually 15 times stronger – something that an addicts’ body is not prepared for.

How can you change the drug overdose situation?

The best thing to do is get active.

In March a community group called Regroup marched the streets in their “No More Deaths” walk. Anything anyone in the community can do – support and participate in community protest activities, write to and visit your major, town council members, congressmen and senators, and make some noise.

There are a lot of things that seem nearly impossible to change. But this isn’t one of them.

Residents of a relatively small area demanding change works.

Without this, the situation will get worse. Do what you can – help end the epidemic and keep more of your townspeople alive and healthy.

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