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Opiate use sees 'uptick' in Bismarck area

BISMARCK -- Law enforcement and hospitals are reporting an increase in opiate use in Bismarck and the surrounding area. As part of a meeting with law enforcement, treatment providers, educators and community members, Bismarck Police Chief Dan Don...

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Mitzie Nay, of Minot, speaks about the opioid overdose death of her 19-year-old son, Aidan Vanderhoef, last summer during a meeting about the opioid addiction issue in North Dakota led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) on Tuesday in Bismarck. (Mike McCleary/Bismarck Tribune)

BISMARCK -- Law enforcement and hospitals are reporting an increase in opiate use in Bismarck and the surrounding area.

As part of a meeting with law enforcement, treatment providers, educators and community members, Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin said Tuesday the department is seeing an uptick in heroin and fentanyl use in the Bismarck area.

"Not as much as it seems like it’s happening around us, but we are seeing it," Donlin said.

On Sunday night, Bismarck police officers were called to a report of a possible fentanyl overdose. The woman was given Narcan, an opiate antidote, and survived.

Opiate abuse is climbing nationwide, including in North Dakota. In 2014, in North Dakota, 43 people died from an opioid overdose, an increase from 20 deaths in 2013.

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In 2014, nearly 19,000 people died in the United States due to a prescription opioid overdose, or an average of 51 people die each day. Opiods resemble morphine in their pain-relieving qualities. Almost 200,000 Americans have lost their lives to prescription opioid abuse since 1999.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who organized the meeting, declared opiate abuse as a "national epidemic" and discussed a bill she recently introduced, called the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act, or LifeBOAT, that would establish a 1-cent fee for every milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill.

The bill, co-sponsored by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, would provide more than $1 billion nationwide each year. Funding would establish new addiction treatment facilities and programs, bolster the mental health workforce and expand access to substance abuse treatment.


Caught unaware

Mitzie Nay, of Minot, attended the discussion Tuesday to talk about the death of her son, Aidan Vanderhoef, 19, who overdosed on meth and heroin last year.

“I didn’t know he was addicted a lot of the time," said Nay, adding her son had problems with theft. “I just thought he was a troubled teenager who has no motivation. It was all addiction, every bit of it was addiction."

Nay spoke Tuesday about a need for more education and awareness surrounding addiction, as well as resources and treatment options.

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Chad Meyers, of Bismarck, also attended Tuesday's discussion to share his experience with addiction. Meyers has been in long-term recovery since 2011, when he stopped using opiates.

Nine years ago, he was run over by a motorcycle and broke his hip. His doctor prescribed him a lot of opiates, he said, and, nine months after he was prescribed the medication, he overdosed.

He was treated using Narcan, but eventually started taking opiates again. He also had his left lung and rib cage on his left side removed and was prescribed even more opiates.

“Because of my condition, my primary care physician continued giving me my opiates, and that was my life. I could not live, I couldn’t function. I could not do nothin’ without my pain medications. I couldn’t get out a bed. I couldn’t walk across this room five years ago," Meyers said.

He went to Heartview in 2011 and hasn’t used opiates since, with help from a medically assisted opiate treatment program.

“For opiate addiction, I can say that a person like ... myself or any other opiate addict, they need long-term recovery," he said. “You can’t go into a hospital and expect an opiate addict to leave and stay sober because they need long-term care.”


Drug monitoring

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Dr. Chris Meeker, chief medical officer at Sanford Health in Bismarck, spoke Tuesday about a drug monitoring program the hospital recently developed.

"We’re going to start tracking who’s prescribing narcotics, who they’re going to, how many they’re going to and if they’re appropriately being used," said Meeker, adding that emergency room visits for substance abuse diagnoses are increasing, from less than 500 visits in 2011 to about 900 visits in 2015.

"Interestingly, between 2013 and 2015, alcohol has actually remained flat. It's amphetamines, cannabis, opioids and synthetics have really driven that number up," he said. "It's still on the rise."

Though prescriptions for opioid painkillers have been on the decline in recent years, deaths have gone up, which Meeker said is troublesome.

“It really concerns me that, as opiates become much harder to get through normal medical means, that death rate is going to go up because people are going to start getting heroin, which is going to be laced with fentanyl," he said.

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