St. Cloud police warn of rise in deadly fentanyl overdoses

Clear plastic bags full of pills
Twenty four pounds of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, were seized by Bloomington police in September. The haul was believed to be one of the largest fentanyl seizures in Minnesota.
Courtesy Bloomington Police Department

Police in St. Cloud are warning people about the dangers of fentanyl after an unprecedented number of fatal overdoses.

Nineteen people have died of overdoses in St. Cloud so far this year. Of those, 16 involved fentanyl.

St. Cloud Police Chief Jeff Oxton said it’s unlike anything he's experienced in his 28 years in law enforcement.

"I've never seen a drug have this kind of impact on public safety regarding how many people are overdosing from it. Especially in our area, we just haven't seen these types of numbers," he said.

In the St. Cloud area, fentanyl is most commonly found in the form of pills known as "Perc 30s,” which are crushed and smoked, and sometimes as powder that can be laced with other drugs.

"I don't know if everybody understands that even marijuana can be laced with fentanyl,” Oxton said. “People can smoke what they think is a simple joint, and yet if it's laced with fentanyl, they're going to die potentially."

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The recent overdose deaths included a 2-year-old child who accidentally ingested the drug. That case is under investigation, Oxton said. The other victims ranged from 22 to 66 years old, with the median age in the 50s.

“We're seeing a little bit of the middle-aged person being affected by the deaths right now,” Oxton said. “But there's always concern about that (age) drifting lower.”

Oxton said his department is working with schools and community groups to raise public awareness of what fentanyl looks like and why it’s so dangerous, “so people don't ingest it thinking it's something else.”

St. Cloud police carry naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in their squad cars. Naloxone — also known as Narcan — can be a lifesaver, Oxton said, but he sees a downside too: People carry it while they’re using.

“I think they're pushing the line of how much they can use, knowing that they've got Narcan there to help them if they overdose,” he said. “That's a scary mix, because although Narcan is an incredible drug, it doesn't always work.”

Oxton said the Central Minnesota Violent Offenders Task Force is working to identify and track down those selling fentanyl in the community.

“There's no doubt in my mind that the people selling fentanyl know how powerful this is, and they know how many people are overdosing on this,” he said. “We are aggressively trying to find those people.”