Drug task force warns of dangerous new synthetic drug

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

The CEE-VI Drug and Gang Task Force which serves Chippewa and neighboring counties has been working to raise public awareness about a new synthetic drug circulating in the local area for the last couple of months. Sergeant Ross Ardoff, the commander of the task force, says the new synthetic drug is extremely dangerous because the amount of Fentanyl contained in the pills can vary widely, and in many cases, may contain lethal amounts of the drug. “They’re pressed pills. They’re manufactured with no regulation,” says Sergeant Ardoff. “You don’t really know what you’re getting inside the pill, whether you purchase it from someone or get it online. Fentanyl in and of itself is extremely dangerous.”

This image provided by the Drug Task Force shows the difference between the real and fake oxycodone that has been circulating around the community.

The CEE-VI Drug and Gang Task Force recently circulated the accompanying photo on social media, exhibiting the difference between the real and synthetic versions of the drug. “The overall power of the drug is what makes it so dangerous,” Ardoff says. “The fact that it takes just a tiny amount of Fentanyl to put you into overdose and kill you as opposed to less powerful drugs like morphine.” The drug has appeared in the local area recently, and Ardoff notes that in that short time “we’ve had a couple of overdoses.” He further noted that the task force had worked hard to fight the drug’s grip on the community— and have already “figured out who the suppliers were, got some controlled buys into the suppliers and executed some search warrants.” 

While the new drug is circulating, Ardoff also points out that drug use and sales in the local area have increased dramatically overall in the last five years. “Probably 85 percent of what we do is methamphetamine-related. It’s been that way for many, many years,” Ardoff says. He also notes the importance of the public being aware of resources such as Naloxone. “Having Naloxone available obviously helps if someone is experiencing an overdose because they can get that administered and reverse the effects, but sometimes it takes more than one dose,” he says.

Local resident Shelly Elkington is dedicating her time and resources to ensure that Naloxone is available to anyone who may need it. Elkington has been working through the Steve Rummler Hope Network, a non-profit that focuses on overdose prevention and resources, to bring Naloxone kits to the Montevideo area. The organization purchases all of the components for the kits and utilizes volunteers in the Minneapolis area to assemble them for distribution. “They have several outreach sites across the state, and I have agreed to do that for our area,” Elkington says.  Elkington, working through the personal tragedy of losing her daughter Casey six years ago due to opioid addiction-related complications (not due to an overdose) has witnessed the effects of opioid overdoses not only in her daughter but in members of the local community. Through her efforts to distribute the life-saving Naloxone, she has worked with everyone from local law enforcement to community members struggling with addiction to family members of those struggling with addiction. “I’ve received Facebook messages from parents who have contacted me because they’re worried. They’ve just found out their child is using and they want it on hand. I’ve had people in active use message me and ask if they can get kits and I’ve met them in the street. It’s really a variety of people and they reach out to me on Facebook messenger or they know someone who knows how to find me. I’ll meet people anywhere to get them kits,” she says. 

Elkington also provides training on how to use Naloxone. “I’ve done many trainings over the last couple of years and a lot of it includes what an overdose looks like, what can be done if someone is overdosing and what Naloxone is, and how it works. Other than that, it’s a syringe, so it’s good to go through the basics like how to draw up the medication and administer it. Anybody can use it. People who are entrenched in heroin use or opioid use know how to use it. They know what Naloxone is, and what it can do and often have it with them, which is really the people we want to try to reach,” she says.

One of the aspects of the work that Elkington does in the community to make sure Naloxone gets into the hands of those that need it is advocating for people who know someone struggling in active addiction to understand the stigma attached to addiction. “I think the most important thing is the stigma. People can think that by having Naloxone you’re encouraging people to use and that’s probably the biggest myth that we experience in advocacy. The mentality that if you keep reviving people they’re just going to keep using is wrong. The reality is that if you don’t revive them, they’re dead and if they’re dead they can’t recover. I’ve known people that have been revived with Naloxone ten times and went on to recovery and continued to work years in recovery and have helped others. It’s always about saving lives. That’s it. You can’t recover if you’re dead,” she says.

With more people dying from overdoses over the last year than at any other time in history, the rate of overdoses continues to rise. “A lot of it is the influx of the synthetic heroin or the synthetic opioids and Fentanyl,” Elkington says. “When I was young, we thought of people who used heroin and had a certain vision of what that looked like in our mind, and now that’s completely changed. People can buy pills like Oxycontin and it’s not needles and set-ups like what we used to see. I think it’s so important for people to understand that there’s no picture of what an opioid user looks like. It’s not necessarily someone who hasn’t had a good upbringing or a good education. There’s no face of it. It’s someone who won fifth place at the state swimming meet just a few years before. Because of that, it’s very hard to identify in communities, and I think for a long time people thought this was not in our community.” 

Shortly after Elkington’s daughter Casey’s death, Shelly approached the Montevideo Police Chief about carrying Naloxone in the squad cars. “That’s a really big deal because they can get there so much faster in an emergency. Within a very short time of them carrying Naloxone they actually had a reversal, so it works,” she says. The Montevideo Police Department and Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department still carry Naloxone in their squad cars to this day. “I think it’s important the general public knows they can carry it too,” Elkington says. “You may think you’ll never need it, but you never know. You could have addiction in your family and not know—it could be your sister’s child, your neighbor, frankly even your mom and dad,” Elkington noted. What Elkington most wants to emphasize is that some of the most important work lay in relating the disease of addiction. Elkington expressed that one of the biggest hurdles could be overcome simply by “starting to override some of the myths about it being a choice people make. Addiction is a chemical biological condition that is very difficult for a lot of people to overcome.”

Elkington posts on social media often about the fact that she has Naloxone available and can distribute and train anyone who needs or thinks they may need it. “I find that it’s important to continue to remind people that I have it and they can reach out to me any time,” she says. “Our personal story has resonated with a lot of people in our community. I don’t wish this upon anybody, but I think my efforts in trying to reduce the stigma around it is the best thing I can do right now. The biggest message is that if people think this is not an issue here, they’re mistaken. Our kids are at risk. Your kids are at risk whether you think they are or not. I come from a place of experience in the sense of loss and that’s what drives me to do any of this, and to prevent anybody from having to experience it.”

CEE-VI Drug and Gant Task Force Commander Ardoff emphasizes that those who are aware of someone dealing or possessing these lethal new drugs should report it to their local police department or the drug task force immediately. “Give us a call so we can deal with it so it doesn’t turn into something horrific,” Ardoff says.