News about a rash of overdoses in Duluth - six in a 24-hour-period - spread over media outlets last week. Douglas County was not immune. Law enforcement has reported eight overdoses in Superior in the past 30 days. Six of them, all linked to heroin, occurred within a six-day period at the end of February. The victims ranged in age from 17 to 39; all of them survived.

One possible explanation for the high number of overdoses, authorities say, is the introduction of a purer batch of heroin into the area. Users are taking the same amount they’re accustomed to, but because it contains a higher percentage of the drug, they get too much.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette, because you don’t know what you’re getting,” said Sgt. James Madden with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, director of the Northwest Area Crime Unit. “That’s eight potential deaths there, including six in one week, if help had not been provided.”

Heroin isn’t a flashy drug. It’s a dull, gray rock or powder reminiscent of plaster. Heroin paraphernalia includes scorched tinfoil, pen bodies and lengths of straw melted at one end to form scoops.

Law enforcement started to see a spike in local heroin use in 2012. The next year was “horrible,” Madden said, and heroin use has been on the increase ever since. Meth, marijuana and other drug use hasn’t gone away, but the high level of heroin addiction sets it apart.

“The thing of it is, it’s a terminal drug and there’s nowhere for those people to go from that,” Madden said. “And it’s the hardest drug to get off of because you have that component of physical addiction as well as mental.”

Need for the drug, the fear of getting sick without it, fuels area property crime. A gram of heroin costs about $250.

“But I know people who have a gram-a-day habit, so every day they have to get $250,” Madden said. That translates into $91,000 a year. “Think about the property crime involved in that.”

The number of overdoses over the past few weeks was unusual.

“Some of these people are young,” Madden said. “The one is 17. His family is well aware of his drug problem, I know that. I’ve got to think there are other parents who aren’t so aware.”

That’s the point behind a string of public information meetings being held by local law enforcement. More than 35 people learned about crime statistics, drug issues and Internet safety from members of the Superior Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 19 at the Superior Public Library. The Sheriff’s Office will hold a similar event at 6:30 p.m. April 8 in the Northwestern High School auditorium. A town hall meeting focused on heroin and other drug abuse is slated for 6:30 p.m. April 21 at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior. Everyone is invited to attend.

“Even if you think, ‘I don’t know anybody who uses drugs,’ you do,” said Superior Community Policing Officer Bonnie Beste. “And it affects the burglaries, the thefts. It seeps in and affects every area of the community.”