(AP) - Police in this upscale college town say they're fighting an unusual heroin epidemic among high school kids.
More than 150 kids are hooked on the drug, Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith said Tuesday. He decided to publicize the problem with a news conference, where he said that as many as 250 current and former Northfield High School students could be involved - some feeding heroin habits of as much as $800 a day.
The epidemic has increased crime and caused consternation in Northfield, one of the most educated and affluent cities in Minnesota, and home to both Carleton and St. Olaf colleges.
"This is affecting our ability to deal with other community concerns," Smith said. "We find ourselves more often reacting to crimes than preventing them."
Smith said investigators first caught wind of the problem when crime started spiking, including a doubling in burglaries and tripling in thefts from autos from 2005 to 2006. It led them to the informal heroin ring at the high school of about 1,300 students.
The ring is comprised mostly of students from white, affluent families who police believe are viewing heroin use as a status symbol. Many are popular students successful in academics and athletics, including one who recently graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.
"We're already starting to see use in kids as young as middle school and the first years of high school," Smith said.
Police said the addicts operate in cliques of fewer than 10, pooling their money from jobs or thefts and taking turns driving to Minneapolis to buy heroin.
So far, authorities have indicted three people for heroin possession and police have executed three search warrants where they recovered 4 grams of heroin, stolen guns and stolen merchandise.
Police said many of the teenagers are also wandering through dorms and classrooms at Carleton and St. Olaf and stealing anything they can get their hands on, especially electronic equipment.
Smith said police know the identities of most of the kids using heroin, as well as where and how they're getting the drug and where most of the stolen merchandise is being sold.
Smith said he decided to go public in hopes of getting drug dealers and fences to stop doing business with Northfield's addicts.
"Those providing heroin to our community and receiving stolen items," he said, "we know who a lot of you are ... I would suggest that you consider your Northfield users burned and not do business with them anymore."
Smith also said the announcement was intended to warn Northfield residents, particularly those in the college community, that they need to take measures to protect themselves, such as locking their doors and vehicles.
"We've been fortunate that no one has been hurt as yet," Smith said. "We want to interdict this now."