Duluth cop, doc describe hurdles in war on synthetic drugsClever hiding places are only part of the challenge police face in dealing with today’s drug problem. Another is the difficulty in keeping up with the ever-growing number of synthetic drugs.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Sgt. Andy Mickus reached into a grocery bag and pulled out what looked like a Dr. Pepper can.
Then he unscrewed the can, revealing a hiding place for illicit drugs.
Police find drugs hidden in what appear to be water bottles, pop cans and Duracell batteries, said Mickus, a Duluth police officer who is supervisor of the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force. They’ve found drug scales disguised as CD cases.
“You can get them on the Internet,” Mickus told an audience Thursday evening at the Morgan Park Good Fellowship Building. “Head shops sell it. You can get this stuff all over the place.”
Mickus was part of a four-person panel who spoke to about 40 people on “Trends and Local Perspectives on Synthetic Drugs in Duluth.” The event was sponsored by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
Clever hiding places are only part of the challenge police face in dealing with today’s drug problem, Mickus said. Another is the difficulty in keeping up with the ever-growing number of synthetic drugs.
“You get one banned and they release three more,” Mickus said. “We were never going to catch up.”
Legislation passed in Minnesota last year made sale of synthetic drugs or analogs — compounds meant to mimic the effects of actual drugs — illegal. But it didn’t go far enough, Mickus said, because it made it only a gross misdemeanor to sell the banned substances. “It was important enough to pass this legislation, but it wasn’t important enough to give it any teeth.”
The Legislature made up for that this year, he said, with stiffer legislation that will take effect Aug. 1. It will make selling the substances a felony and give the State Board of Pharmacy increased ability to add to the list of banned substances.
The law so far has been largely ignored by sellers such as Jim Carlson, who owns the Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth. He has challenged the law as being too vague and claims the compounds he sells can’t be identified as analogs.
Panelist Dr. Elisabeth Bilden, a medical toxicologist for Essentia Health who is also associate medical director for Hennepin Regional Poison Control, spoke about what she sees in patients who have had a bad reaction to synthetic drugs.
“These people are revved up,” Bilden said. “They’re agitated. They are paranoid. … They’re kicking, screaming.”
All of the speakers said part of the difficulty with the synthetic substances is that they aren’t regulated. “Nobody knows where it’s coming from, and none of it is ever the same,” Mickus said.
The quest for money to buy synthetic drugs has led to an increase in property crimes, Mickus said.
Panelist Dennis Cummings, director of the Bethel Outpatient Center, said it’s also tied to an increase in violent crimes.
“Some of these high-profile acts of violence you’ve seen in the papers these last few months, those people are flying high on bath salts,” Cummings said.
Deb Holman, an outreach worker for CHUM, said she came to the event because she has seen synthetic drug use among her clientele in recent months.
“I’m seeing it on the streets,” Holman said. “People are smoking it right in front of us.”