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State of the City: Mayor highlights new projects, growing opioid concerns

Mayor Scott Decker, right, and Wayne Stenehjem, ND Attorney General, spoke together at Thursday's State of the City event. A concern for both is the growing opioid crisis. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press1 / 3
At Tuesday's State of the City event, Mayor Scott Decker spoke on the city's many efforts, including debt reduction and infrastructure projects, as well as the growing opioid crisis. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press2 / 3
Among future city projects outlined by Mayor Scott Decker at Thursday's State of the City, an event center and a needed behavioral health center are being considered. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press3 / 3

"The state of our city in 2017 and going into 2018 is strong," Mayor Scott Decker began a State of the City event held Thursday, Feb. 8, at Dickinson State University's Biesiot Activities Center. "But we are still not without challenges."

The city is committed, Decker said, to debt reduction and infrastructure projects.

Among the city's efforts, a feasibility study will be completed for a possible event center, Decker said.

"An event center will complete us as a regional hub city," he said.

Sales tax revenue has been increasing, Decker said, though the amount, roughly $8 million in 2017, is still down from the peak of the oil boom at $12 million in 2014.

A strong effort has been underway to promote local spending over online spending.

"That's tax money we are not collecting," he said.

Decker applauded Meridian Energy Group Inc. for choosing the Dickinson area for its Davis Refinery, saying it will have "a huge impact on our economy."

A major effort for Dickinson, single-stream recycling begins in October.

"Not only are we going to do things that are better for our environment, we are a regional landfill. Over 20 communities dump their waste in our landfill," Decker said. "We only have so much life left, and building a new landfill, with federal regulations, gets more and more difficult. We have to take care of the landfill we have."

A key challenge for the city, Decker said, is creating a new behavioral health center to meet the growing demands for mental health and addiction counseling.

"It's paramount we get this facility up and running," he said. "Knowing there is help locally will be a first step to beating this opioid crisis."

Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota attorney general, as the event's special guest, spoke more on the growing opioid concerns across the state.

Greater than the "meth lab crisis" when he came into office in 2001, common painkillers are a needed and legally manufactured product.

"The added problem is everyone considers them 'just' prescription drugs, and not in the same category as all of those other illegal substances," Stenehjem said.

Stenehjem said he is hearing from law enforcement colleagues that the problem is "out of control."

"One of our narcotics task force agents said it used to be most of our cases involved meth," he said. "Now 80 percent of our work involves prescription drug abuse."

Heroin use is also a growing problem.

Ten years ago, the state crime lab received only one heroin sample per year, Stenehjem said, and now samples arrive daily.

"Who would ever have thought we would have a heroin problem in North Dakota?" he said. "Heroin was a loser drug, it was for inner city addicts who could use it for a long time. Now the heroin we're seeing is so powerful and so potent it's fatal."

The drug fentanyl is being added to heroin to make it "50 to 100 times more powerful."

"We are seeing, here in Dickinson, here across North Dakota, young people mostly, taking a substance once and dying," Stenehjem said.

Stenehjem showed a sample, two minute vials in a baggie the size of a postage stamp, each with a mere few grains of salt, substituting as fentanyl.

"A half a gram, that's enough to kill everyone in this room," he said.

Reported instances of heroin use in N.D. have skyrocketed from only 17 in 2012 to nearly 300 in 2017, Stenehjem said.

"The numbers are enormous," he said. "(The crime lab is) getting inundated and unable to actually analyze a lot of the samples that come in."

The notion that the drug problem arrived with the oil companies is false, Stenehjem said, as the problem is not only in Western North Dakota, but across the entire state.

With law enforcement, what is required, Stenehjem said, is "adequate, affordable treatment centers."

Shawn Kessel, Dickinson city administrator, serving as emcee, concluded by acknowledging the annual event was a departure from previous years, as the opioid problem has become a great concern for the city.

"This is something that is affecting Dickinson very severely," Kessel said. "It's serious, and there needs to be more attention and more resources applied to this effort."

The event was sponsored by the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce. For more information call 701-225-5115.
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