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St. Louis Co. Receiving Federal Funding to Combat 'Drug Epidemic'

Ryan Juntti
Updated: September 24, 2019 09:09 PM

St. Louis County will receive federal funding to help combat the "drug epidemic" as the county is one of 13 across Minnesota and Wisconsin to be added to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program. The designation was approved by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) last week.

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"We've obviously heard about this opioid epidemic. It's a huge problem," said MN Adult & Teen Challenge Center Director Brandon Torgerson.

"The St. Louis County, and surrounding region has a high level of activity of drug use and it continues to be of concern," said Duluth Bethel Executive Director Dennis Cummings.  

Torgerson and Cummings see those impacted by drug use every day. 

"Everybody knows somebody who has been affected by substance use disorder. It does not matter who you are, it affects all types of people," said Torgerson.

"There's a finite limited amount of resources available, and everybody's fighting a real good fight, but we need more resources to carry on that fight and continue to carry this forward," said Cummings. 

Sheriff Ross Litman says the funding being given to the county will hopefully be used to put more resources into the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. Litman says the goal is to provide more officers, equipment, and information sharing. He also says this would send a message that anyone who wants to traffic drugs will be caught. 

"I think these additional resources are going to continue to send a strong message to the people that come into this area trafficking drugs that there's a great likelihood that you're not going to be successful here," said Litman.

"The federal program will facilitate coordination among Federal, State, local and tribal law enforcement partners focused on disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking organizations," a news release from the Duluth Police Department says. 

The program will also provide additional supplemental funding to assist the efforts in "tackling an epidemic that has disproportionately affected our region," the release says.

“I’m thankful for the decision the leaders of the North Central HIDTA made to include St. Louis County in their district and the designation that comes with it. We welcome the additional assistance and resources that this decision brings to our county,” Sheriff Ross Litman said in the release.

Cummings says kids are using drugs at a younger age, and that the resources go could go a long ways in helping cut down on the access that younger kids have. 

"The trends and the problems that are associated with that early onset of use has really developed into a far more need for a really multi-level and multi-discipline response," said Cummings.

While Torgerson says it will have a big impact overall addressing what he calls a "drug epidemic." 

"It's going to help make a huge difference in this epidemic in the drug problem that we have around us," said Torgerson. 

"While we’re removing the supply of dangerous substances from our region, we’re also working to decrease the demand by following up with those who have overdosed to help them get the resources they need to heal," Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said in the release.

Litman says it isn't known yet how much money the county will be given, and when that will happen.

More information is expected to be provided at a press conference in November.

Minnesota counties part of the North Central HIDTA

  • Anoka
  • Dakota 
  • Hennepin 
  • Olmstead
  • Ramsey
  • St. Louis
  • Washington

Wisconsin counties part of the North Central HIDTA

  • Brown
  • Dane
  • Kenosha
  • Milwaukee
  • Racine
  • Rock
  • Waukesha

Credits

Ryan Juntti

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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