Law enforcement experts share information to raise drug awareness, risks to young people


Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson addresses the audience during a presentation on drug awareness held at Potter Auditorium last Tuesday evening, while a panel of law enforcement and drug officers await their turn to speak during the forum. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Chatfield News

“Our life wasn’t much different than other families’,” stated Dawn Crandall, standing at the lectern onstage at Potter Auditorium at the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA) last Tuesday, May 29. Crandall shared the story of her son, Alex, and how his addictions to drugs and alcohol affected their family and ultimately caused his death at 21 years of age.

She outlined for the audience members how he’d been a very active, bright child who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in elementary school. He had an insatiable need to move and to try things — including marijuana and alcohol when he was 14 years old.

Over the ensuing years, his behavioral changes challenged his parents’ concept of what an addict is. They were left to wonder how his last moments felt, as a son and an addict, when he was electrocuted while scrapping for copper to satisfy his need for methamphetamine.

“Not once did I hear our son say that his dream was to be addicted to methamphetamine. Addicts are not horrible people. They have a disease that makes them do things. Addiction does not discriminate…so talk to your children about drugs and alcohol,” she said.

Crandall was among a panel of individuals who addressed community members concerned about drug awareness – the panel was led by Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and included Fillmore County Sheriff Tom Kaase. Also included in the panel were impact speakers such as Crandall, drug and online trafficking investigators and Chatfield Police Officer Kevin Landorf, who serves as Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (DARE) officer at Chatfield Elementary School.

Authorities in the audience included Chatfield’s police chief, Shane Fox, and Olmsted County deputies.

Torgerson shared that high school students who took a survey in a school district in his jurisdiction indicated that access to illicit substances is growing and they have tried or dealt with being asked to try a substance.

He cited that among older students, the variety of drugs available is wider simply because they’re older, but younger students, such as seventh and eighth graders, consider alcohol and prescription drugs to be their first options when experimenting because their elders have both substances readily available in the cupboard or medicine cabinet.

“It’s all available right there… they have access,” Torgerson said. “It’s sad. Prescription drugs give kids easy access…some kids look at them as cash. Their parents have them, their grandparents have them, and they don’t think that there’s anything dangerous about them…they sell them to their classmates.”

Torgerson spoke about the tobacco industry’s role in marketing cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs to children, pointing out that even though it is now illegal to use cartoons such as the Camel cigarette camel or “hero” figures such as the Marlboro Man to advertise, the tobacco and drug companies that sell such products have found ways around the laws that prohibit cartoons and marketing to children.

Furthermore, the culture surrounding drugs and alcohol has evolved since many in attendance were young enough to use the slang of their day. “When we were kids, there were a lot of things we said or did that our parents didn’t understand, and there’s a lot of things that companies are doing to advertise to kids. It’s really easy,” Torgerson added.

The sheriff posted a slide that showed a wide array of everyday items used to conceal illegal or often-abused substances – everything from marijuana to heroin and opioids – including clothing, pants, shirts and cigarette lighters.

“Cough syrup…kids are mixing cough syrup and 7Up. Now that cold and flu season is over, know how much and where your cough syrup is,” he urged parents. “And if you see a picture on a t-shirt of a cat with really big eyes, it’s not just a cute cat. That cat is a big symbol of EDM raves . . . Ecstasy. And there are concealment options of all kinds – clothing, pants, shirts, shoes, other things that look very normal, like pop bottles, pop cans, sunscreen tubes, even tampons. The top of a bottle might come off and have a hidden top inside. And these companies use the actual logos of real products, like Pepsi or Starbucks. Phones…if your kid has a second phone that doesn’t work, it’s probably got something to do with drug use.”

He pointed out a change in attitude that seems to occur between the time that a child is in DARE classes to the time that they enter college.

“You can focus on the amount of money, the time away from work, the addiction,” Torgerson said. “You can’t say ‘I did meth for six months to a year’ and just walk away. There is a lot more to it than time away from work. DARE…the impact that these fifth and sixth graders are making is incredible. They’re saying, ‘I’ll never do drugs in my life,’ but now, the survey shows that they grow up and say, ‘I’ll probably never do meth.’ What happens? Parents, do we not follow up?”

Torgerson introduced Vince Scheckel, commander of the Southeast Minnesota Violent Crimes Enforcement Team. Scheckel observed that with the acceptance of marijuana in other states as a legal substance, it has become increasingly more common and accepted here in Minnesota, where it is not.

“We’re seeing marijuana and heroin overdoses. Methamphetamines…we used to see a lot of it in powder form, but now, we’re seeing all crystal meth coming from Mexico. And the price decreased so much in the area…and heroin is huge. It’s so addictive that people inject it and don’t care what it’s mixed with,” Scheckel said. “Ambulances, private individuals and investigators are now carrying naloxone, or NarCan, to counter overdoses, and a lot of heroin is now mixed with fentanyl.”

He also shared that the popularity of marijuana and synthetic marijuana continue to grow in this area. “But with synthetic marijuana, it’s the most potent THC from the marijuana that’s sprayed onto a powder, and again, people who use it don’t care whether they know what’s in it,” Scheckel said. “‘Bath salts’ and powder are cheaper than cocaine, but the chemical mimics the same high.”

He advised parents to look for signs or items in children’s rooms that might not fit, including meth pipes or torches.

“If you ever find a torch in your kid’s room, it’s not a good sign,” Scheckel added. “They’re not just smoking cigarettes – because you don’t need a torch to light a cigarette – but they’re using the torch to heat meth enough to smoke it.”

Prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, or oxycodone, and Xanax are being taken from family members’ medicine cabinets and sold on the street.

“Parents and grandparents need to have the same philosophy about prescription meds as they do about guns,” Scheckel said. “When I was a kid, my uncle had all his guns in a locked cabinet that displayed them, but now, he’s got them in a safe. We need to get prescriptions out of medicine cabinets and into lockboxes.”

He also noted there are prescription medication drop-offs at both the Olmsted and Fillmore County sheriff’s offices to get rid of unused medications.

“There were 395 opioid deaths in 2016, and of those, 185 were overdoses,” Scheckel concluded. “We need to look at how we’re treating people for pain, rather than them taking opioids. The CDC admits that the risks outweigh the benefits for most people.”

Deputy Michelle Ness, Olmsted County’s DUI enforcement officer, is trained as a drug recognition expert to help identify what someone might have taken so they may be treated properly when apprehended for offenses.

She shared that there is a difference between alcohol and drug impairment, but that one needs to know how to look for the signs.

“I get called in to figure out what I believe someone might be under the influence of when they get picked up,” she explained. “There are five different kinds of drugs – depressants such as alcohol, amphetamines, hallucinogens, narcotics and inhalants.”

She showed the audience examples of each and described their effects, remarking on the particularly odd-looking booking photograph of a man with gold spray paint all over his face.

She explained, “Metallic paint has more aerosol in it. It needs more in the can to get the metallic paint out, and if someone is huffing it, they sometimes come in with paint on their faces. If you find punching balloons in a bedroom or a car, it’s because they spray into it and fill it up, then they inhale the aerosol out of the balloons.”

She gave the example of a man who is addicted to the aerosol in the spray cans of air that are used to clean keyboards. “We find this guy going into WalMart and stealing cans of Dust-Off, and he’ll go out to the parking lot, huff it and pass out. And if you’re missing spoons, it’s because in order to use heroin, addicts have to crush it up and add water to shoot it up in a syringe. We can see marks on people’s arms where they have shot up, but they’ll blatantly lie to you, even as their arm is bleeding and the needle is next to them.”

Detective Chad Winters was next at the lectern, with a message about online safety, including a warning to parents to be aware of what their children are posting online. He also urged them to be willing to invade their children’s space just enough to keep tabs on them, but also to keep an open line of communication to ensure that if a child is communicating with a potential predator, they feel safe in bringing that to their parents instead of becoming victims of human trafficking or cyberbullying and blackmail.

“The first thing a parent thinks is to take away a kid’s phone, but that’s not going to be helpful,” Winters said. “Ask your kids what they’re doing on their phone or computer and if they don’t want to show you, be concerned. Ask them if there’s anything that they’d like to talk about. There are safeguards, but kids figure out how to get around all the safeguards.”

He related that predators do, too.

“We’ve helped kids who have been online with people all the way from Cambodia and Vietnam who are asking for photos to blackmail these kids into giving them what they want,” Winters said. “It’s very difficult to prosecute someone if they’re in Cambodia or Vietnam. And tell your kids that when they post something, they might think that if it’s on SnapChat, it’s there for only ten seconds, but it is what it is…it’s on there and can be reposted. The photos are out there. And it’s not just on phones. It’s online at school computers, it’s laptops, game consoles. The kids at risk are getting younger and younger.”

Laura Sutherland, of victims’ services at Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted (DFO) community services, shared about how she has assisted young people up to age 24 because they are now considered to be emotional minors due to brain development still in progress.

“Minnesota takes a protective stance on exploitation, and there’s the ‘safe harbor’ law (that protects victims of human trafficking). Kids may exchange themselves for money, food, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay. A lot of referrals I get are for drugs, and when students don’t have that kind of money and are addicted, they exchange themselves for them,” Sutherland said. “Or they provide nudes and are promised that they’ll get them back, but they never do.”

Online predators target young people who share emotional information in their profiles, such as “sad” emojis or statements that they’ve had a bad day, and, Sutherland cited, it happens to both boys and girls. “A total of 171 guys sent pictures that we could prove this guy received, and another 300 to 400 sent pictures. Two of them took their own lives because the harassment was so great,” she said.

Crandall and another parent family impact speaker rounded out the evening’s discussion before a question-and-answer session. Both sheriffs reminded parents to be vigilant about remaining in communication with their children to prevent addiction, trafficking, untimely demise or changed futures, and the audience thanked the panel with applause for their investment in the community.

Chatfield’s Chatfield Cable Television (CCTV) sent a volunteer to record the presentation – anyone who would like to watch it in its entirety may do so when it is posted on the city website at www.ci.chatfield.mn.us