Photo: Heroin Needle found on sidewalk in Duluth’s West End.

One of the many things they don’t clearly explain to you before you have kids, is how dangerous the world is.  From the baby days of deadly coffee table corners to toddlers figuring out how to remove the safety plugs from outlets, raising children is a death defying feat.  And it’s never ending.  As your kids grow the dangers multiply and your ability to control them declines.  Every news broadcast or article posted online serves as a reminder.  “Girl Killed in ATV Accident”, “Missing Toddler Found in Trunk”, kids dying from the “Cinnamon Challenge”, sports injuries, binge drinking, drugs… possible demise around every corner.

It’s easy to think “my kid would never…”, “my kid knows better…”, “I told my kid…”.  And just as these phrases play in my head they are verbalized by the devastated parents being interviewed on the news.

Heroin is at epidemic levels in the Twin Ports.  An increased demand for narcotic painkillers is contributing to a spike in use.  Heroin, vicodin, oxycodone and oxycontin are all opiate based substances.  The Pioneer Press reported that some prescription drug abusers eventually shift use to heroin because its often cheaper and sometimes more accessible, and not just to the stereotypical dark alley dwellers one might think of with a notoriously dangerous drug like heroin.

According to  USNoDrugs.com (a drug treatment assistance website), between 2002-2003 there were an estimated 115,000 people with an illicit drug addiction or abuse problem in Minnesota and 26,000 were between 12-17 years old.

Just last week three Chicago heroin dealers were arrested in Duluth. Google “Duluth, Heroin, Chicago” and you’ll find stories from February, May, and now this month, about Chicago dealers being arrested in our neighborhoods.  We have a dealer problem, and we have a drug influx problem, but our biggest problem is growing kids that can resist falling into the drug traps around every corner.

In 1999, Minnesota ranked 8th of all states for drug use in 12-17 year olds, 2nd for drug-related emergency hospital visits in that age group and if you just look at girls, we were #1.   Stopping the drug problems in our city is not just the job of our law enforcement, but a job for all of us parents as well.

Lt. Jeff Kazel of the Duluth Police Department and the Lake Superior Drug & Violent Crime Task Force told the Northlands News Center that overdosing in Duluth is on the rise.  This year they’ve responded to 32 heroin overdose calls, compared to just 16 in all of 2014.    In 2014, our police force responded to over 100,000 total calls, 611 for narcotics, ten years ago, those numbers were 69,462 and 423.

County Attorney, Mark Rubin, told NNC that the county will come down hard on dealers, with 86 months in jail, while users go to drug court to get the help they need.  Less users means less dealers.

We try to prepare our kids for the scary things they could encounter. Google images are worth 1000 words when you want to scare them straight on what happens to your teeth when you don’t brush them, or the variety of injuries one can sustain while jumping on the bed. We talk about stranger danger and what to do when someone grabs them, and who the bad guys maybe and how they may act, but with drugs the “bad guy” might be their friend and the drugs could look like anything, it could be slipped to them without their knowledge, it could be pressured to the point where all our words of caution are drowned out, it could happen for a while before we even notice or it could devastate us by surprise.  The Minnesota Department of Human Services advises the best prevention is a strong family bond, parents keeping tabs on activities and peers, clear rules that are enforced, success in school and verbal discussion of the dangers.   There are policies that promote drug-free curriculum in schools, too.  We’ve come a long way from “Just Say No”, but I still don’t think it’s enough.

Drug abuse, especially among children is not just an individual or family problem, but a community problem.  It’s only as a community we can protect our kids.  Let’s set aside our egos, high brows, and our upturned noses.  And, let’s make a deal.  We need to get to know our kids’ friends and their families. We need to put aside the awkwardness about talking about drugs.  So, if you see my kid doing something they shouldn’t, tell me, and I’ll do the same for you. Make this deal with all the parents you know.  I would rather endure the surprise, embarrassment, shame and following confrontation with the offending child than suffer a much worse but highly possible fate, I hope most parents would agree.  If we look away, we may lose one.  I don’t want it to one of mine, or one of yours.