HARDER DRUGS ARE THE TREND
Drugs and violence in Northern Minnesota
VIRGINIA -- Harder drugs are replacing less potent narcotics, causing
more powerful effects, stronger addictions, less compunction over
committing crime, and serious physical and psychological effects.
And, officials say, the public's lack of awareness on the subject
allows the problem to progress.
"I think what the public doesn't realize is how prevalent the drug
culture is here, and it's the same situation in all of rural
Minnesota," Virginia's Supervising Deputy Sheriff John Malovrh said.
"It's not just a metro or big city problem, and northern Minnesota is
certainly no exception.
"The average citizen who goes to work, raises a family ... we just
aren't exposed to that other side of life. The good news is that it's
not impacting our lives directly. But the bad news is, it doesn't
raise the public's awareness" of local drug issues.
Some of those problems include stronger versions of familiar drugs,
methamphetamine use on a steep incline and youth drug addiction.
Overall drug use, "I wouldn't say it's on the rise," Boundary Waters
Drug Task Force Coordinator and Investigator Evans said. He could not
give his first name due to involvement in undercover operations. "It's
just a different type" of drug being used.
Cocaine popularity peaked in the 1980s but dropped off when
methamphetamine, offering a longer high at less cost, burst on the
Meth itself has also changed. "Dirty brown," which is also referred to
as "three-two meth" because of its weakness akin to beer with a 3.2
percent alcohol content, has given way to "glass" or "ice." This new
methamphetamine, which is white and crystalline, compared to its
predecessor's brown, powdery appearance, is 80 percent pure and 2.5
ounces can sell for $4,000, Evans said.
Another hard drug coming into the area is Ecstasy, he said. "It will
grow (in popularity). But the difference is, it's a kid drug. Kids
around here leave for college."
Ecstasy, called a date-rape drug, is often used by juve
niles or young
adults at raves, which are all-night dance parties.
Amongst area youth, Evans has also seen Ritalin, a drug chemically
similar to amphetamines, snorted a "couple of times," he said. "And,
of course, they like their marijuana."
Marijuana use hasn't risen or fallen much over the years, Evans said.
It has, though, changed from the weaker "Mexican brick" to Canadian or
home-grown marijuana, which has a higher content of the drug.
"I haven't seen as many grow-your-own operations here as I did when I
was working in Duluth or the Cities," indicating it's coming in from
outside sources, Evans said.
Children as young as 10 years old have been in the local court system
for marijuana or paraphernalia offenses, St. Louis County Attorney
Sharon Chadwick, who handles juvenile cases at the Virginia District
"They seem to use marijuana at a young age," she said. "I'm seeing a
lot of kids, they have it on them all of the time. Like an adult might
go out for coffee or a cigarette break, they seem to go out and smoke
Many children also abuse drugs that are readily available at
"What you'll see is a lot of kids selling their parents' prescriptions
or their own prescriptions," Chadwick said. "I just had one girl who
was selling her prescriptions for money to support her marijuana habit."
One drug that has not infiltrated local schools fully yet is
methamphetamine, Evans said.
"In Duluth, 16- to 25-year-olds jumped onto the methamphetamine
bandwagon," he said. "I haven't seen that hit up here yet."
But, he said, "kids get into stuff a lot faster these days. A
12-year-old now isn't the same as a 12-year-old 20 years ago. Through
drug education and T.V., kids are more exposed."
Chadwick said meth use amongst juveniles is on the rise, though, and
the real rate of addiction amongst local teens might be worse than
Statistics tell a skewed story when it comes to youth drug use, she
Arrest statistics aren't representative of usage rates because "we
can't charge anyone with just having the drug in their systems," she
said. "I see lots of references to juveniles suspected to have meth in
She has also noticed a steady increase in the number of actual meth
cases amongst youth. So far this year, nine of the 44 juvenile drug
offense cases Chadwick has filed have been for meth. At 20 percent of
her drug-related cases, it is the highest number she has ever seen in
A lot of girls have been arrested with methamphetamine paraphernalia
or small amounts of the drug on them, Chadwick said. She worries they
are turning to the illicit stimulant as a weight-loss tool.
"For the girls that think they're going to lose weight, ask them if
they want to keep their teeth," she said.
Rotten teeth, grayish skin, acne and sores are a few of the physical
effects of long-term meth use. Psychological effects include paranoia,
irritability, hallucinations and depression.
"What's scary is, you lose all ability to feel anything pleasurable
from any other source" than the methamphetamine after using for a
while, Chadwick said. The lack of any feelings other than those
stimulated by using the drug just gives addicts one more reason to
keep abusing it.
"I've had kids who've had all their teeth rotted out," Chadwick said.
"You can tell they've had long-standing issues."
Long-term methamphetamine addiction is common because of the drug's
highly addictive nature. Evans recently interviewed an 18-year-old who
readily admitted she had been using meth since she was 12 years old.
That's probably the youngest case he has heard of, Evans said, but
learning that addicts had been using meth since their teenage years is
"I don't want parents to be naive and think that kids don't have
access to hard drugs," Chadwick said.
Teens without jobs turn to identity theft and check forgery to fund
their drug use.
"They have easy access to their parents' and their friends' parents'
account information," she said. "And after they've been on
methamphetamine for a while, they have no value judgments left" and no
qualms about stealing from loved ones.
Signs of meth abuse that parents can watch out for are excited speech
and changes in mood, sleeping and eating patterns. Methamphetamine
paraphernalia includes tinfoil, gum wrappers, tuna cans or metal
spoons with residue, broken light bulbs and pipes.
"The concern with kids is, as they get more involved with the hard
drugs, they come into contact with more dangerous people," Chadwick
said. "I just cringe when I see these cases with young girls in a
hotel room with older men with paraphernalia present."
She has already dealt with two cases concerning young girls partying
with older men this year.
Each juvenile conviction carries its own punishment, depending on the
offender's criminal background and the level of offense, among other
things, Chadwick said. Adequate help with their addictions, though, is
sometimes hard to find.
"We have a good probation department but treatment is always in short
supply," she said. "Programs for kids are just developing and we don't
know how effective they will be yet."
Keeping up with new drug trends and switching the fundaments of
alcohol dependency treatment programs to fit those trends are a few
problems facing juvenile treatment, Chadwick said.
The next installment of the Drugs and Violence series will identify
local resources available to people with chemical dependencies and
addictions, and the challenges facing those organizations.