(KMSP) - An old nemesis is back and it’s spreading like a plague across greater Minnesota.
A decade after Minnesota passed laws to stomp out production of methamphetamine from makeshift labs, it’s now cheaper and easier to buy than ever.
Researcher Marnie Werner, who is with Rural Policy and Development, is tracking the fallout.
“This state is awash in meth. There’s so much they don’t know what to do with it,” she said.
Seventy four percent of all drug arrests statewide last year were for meth.
A third of Minnesota counties report more people are now being treated for a meth addiction than alcohol, which was the most abused chemical.
“Often times they’re very paranoid, they are imagining things, maybe visual and auditory hallucinations. Sometimes they have compulsive picking of their skin or pulling their hair, thinking they see bugs,” said Dr. Joe Corser of Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.
The drug, according to state enforcement agents, is being smuggled here from huge production labs in Mexico.
The new meth is extremely potent and very cheap.
What used to sell for $20,000 a pound seven years ago, is now just $4,000.
It’s so inexpensive and available that it's like throwing gasoline on Minnesota's already raging addiction fire.
If there’s an epicenter to Minnesota’s addiction epidemic it’s in Beltrami County. The social and financial impact on this community is mind-boggling. One out of every ten children there has been placed in foster care at some point, because of a drug-related issue in their home.
Every month, on average, officials remove at least 150 kids from a parent with a chemical dependency problem.
"We have more children that go into permanent care than we ever have before," said Becky Secore, Director of Beltrami County Human Services. “Our jails are full, our law enforcement is stressed, our courts are stressed, our hospital is stressed.”
BABIES BORN INTO THE EPIDEMIC
At Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, staff remodeled the nursery because so many babies were being born to moms with a substance abuse disorder.
“These kids are very susceptible to extra stimulus,” said Lisa Johnson, a registered nurse at the hospital.
They’re placed in private rooms, with sound proofing, and warm lighting, to create a soothing environment and have a need to be held constantly
“Changing the diaper will start making them very jittery, almost where they look like they’re shaking at times, crying non-stop where they don’t want to be consoled,” she added.
Since 2015, Bemidji Police have been called to the hospital to place 263 newborns on protective holds after they tested positive for meth or opioids.
“One in particular that I saw was completely red in color and just screaming, and I know children cry but just screaming a painful cry,” said Bemidji Police Chief, Mike Mastin. “It’s tough, it wears on ya.”
TALKING FROM EXPERIENCE
Ashley Benson is a recovering Opioid and meth user and mother of four children.
"I knew from the moment of getting a phone call from my sister, Destiny, that I had to do something," said Benson. "I didn't want to lose my kids was my biggest thing. I didn't want to lose my children.”
On the day she buried a sister from a heroin overdose, she decided to enter a treatment program.
"I wasn't using as heavily at the time because I knew I was pregnant. And I knew it was wrong," she recalled.
While in treatment, Benson was prescribed a medication to help combat her opioid cravings.
However, it came at a cost to her youngest child.
He was born with a dependence on Suboxone, the very medicine that helped her find sobriety.
He remained in the hospital for several weeks on morphine to ease him through withdrawal.
“I was doing right, but still seeing your baby go through that was horrible,” Benson said.
She is now clean, raising her family and giving back, working for Sanford Health as an advocate for other women with similar struggles.
Sanford and Beltrami County have teamed up in an effort to reach out to expecting moms with addictions.
Kami Kelm is a county social worker and a recruiter for the “first steps to healthy babies program.”
“I wish they would come to me. Sometimes they do. But rarely, I have to go out and find them because they’re afraid to come forward,” she said.
The objective is to get women with a drug abuse problem into treatment early in their pregnancies.
“This could be the one time that she decides to make a change because pregnancy is a huge motivator to get into recovery, because it’s not just about me anymore, it’s about the child now,” said Ali Bruning who is with the Sanford Medication Assisted Therapy Clinic.
Because of the program, the number of babies testing positive for drugs on the day of delivery is leveling off. As a result, more moms are able to keep custody of their infants.
However, the availability of cheap meth is complicating efforts to bring the broader addiction crisis into check.
“I see many patients whose primary abuse disorder is an opioid use disorder, but they use meth to combat withdrawal symptoms when they can’t find an opioid,” said Dr. Joseph Corser from Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.
Unlike heroin, there are no medicines available to assist the treatment of a methamphetamine addiction.
SOCIAL WORKER FEELS THE EFFECTS AT HOME
Val Ras, a Beltrami County Social Worker, has seen the ravages of Meth’s comeback in her job and in her own life.
“It’s just such a powerful drug and it’s so deadly and it affects mental health. It can permanently affect their brain and is difficult to treat,” she said.
Earlier this year, her son Mark, who battled with a meth addiction, committed suicide. He was married and the father of three children.
“I would think that in my profession, in what I do that I should have been able to recognize those things and help him. But it wasn’t there. I didn’t see what was going on. And I wasn’t able to help him,” said Ras as she reflected.
Officials in Beltrami County and elsewhere are hoping state lawmakers will do more to help address the addiction crisis. They say they're in desperate need of funding for additional treatment centers and resources for children.