Minnesota: Opiate, Synthetic Drug Use Surging

Abuse of heroin, other opiates and synthetic marijuana climbed sharply last year, according to state data released Monday.

A new report by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) found that heroin accounted for 10 percent of addiction treatment admissions in the first half of 2011. That’s more than triple the percentage from 2000.

Other opiates, which include most prescription painkillers, accounted for 9.3 percent of treatment admissions in the first half of 2011, compared to 1.4 percent in 2000.

The report also noted that the Hennepin Regional Poison Center saw a marked increase in incidents involving fake marijuana, which is sold as herbal incense, and various synthetic drugs sold as “research chemicals” and “bath salts.”

“The use of synthetic marijuana continued to create heightened concern throughout Minnesota in 2011,” the report read. The poison center documented 149 “exposures” to what it calls “THC homologs” last year. It documented 28 in 2010.

Last spring in Blaine, 19-year-old Trevor Robinson overdosed on a synthetic drug and died during a party.

Also last spring, 22-year-old Alex Winterhalter, in an “altered state of mind” caused by his use of synthetic marijuana, died from a self-inflicted gunshot at his Maple Grove home, according to police. The shooting was ruled an accident.

Last month, a national survey reported that more than 10 percent of high school seniors surveyed said they had used synthetic pot in the previous year.

Despite efforts to limit access to synthetic drugs, they are still widely available on the Internet and are also sold in some stores. Some manufacturers have switched to legal chemicals similar to those that are banned.

“With the emergence and growth of these dangerous and addictive drugs, it is imperative that communities educate themselves, embrace prevention efforts and become part of the solution,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

Carol Falkowski, drug abuse strategy officer for the DHS, has prepared the report on trends twice annually since 1986.

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