Duluth shelter seeing problems from synthetic drugs

Duluth synthetics
Syringes and a synthetic drug wrapper collected by CHUM shelter employee Shawn Carr, of Duluth, Minn., are shown Tuesday, April 23, 2013. Staffers at the nonprofit CHUM agency say they have caught more than 100 people smoking, snorting or injecting synthetics on its property in the past year.
AP Photo/Duluth News Tribune, Clint Austin

A shelter for vulnerable residents is the latest to complain of problems from the growing use of synthetic drugs in downtown Duluth.

Staffers at the nonprofit CHUM agency say they have caught more than 100 people smoking, snorting or injecting synthetics on its property in the past year, the Duluth News Tribune reported Friday. Fifty to 60 people sleep in the shelter on a typical night.

"It pulls us away from our primary mission, which is helping people," said Shawn Carr, a support staffer who oversees the shelter most nights. "These days, we have to spend so much of our time policing."

Staff members have found used syringes in bedding, and some residents have developed infections and required hospitalization from sharing needles.

CHUM expels anyone caught using for at least two weeks, and Carr said taking a hard line has hurt relationships with the people they try to help.

"Some people who I was very friendly with in the past now see me almost as the enemy," he said.

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He blames Last Place on Earth, a nearby head shop that sells synthetics, and says the problem dropped sharply when the shop was closed for a week recently due to the owner's arrest.

But shop owner Jim Carlson rejected the idea he's to blame. Carlson maintains that his products are legal and has resumed his business as he awaits trial.

"If it wasn't for our products, my customers would be using alcohol or crack or heroin," he said. He added: "If someone is drunk on rum, do you blame it on Bacardi or on the business that sold that bottle? Or do you blame it on the person?"

Shelter resident Josh Mason, who moved to Duluth from Colorado, said he was surprised by the amount of synthetic drug use he's seen.

"I came to Duluth to get away from that stuff, but it seems like there are even more drugs and junkies here," he said. "People are coming in high all the time, getting in fights and trying to steal from one another. Folks need a safe place to stay, and they're screwing it up for everyone."

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Information from: Duluth News Tribune