Heroin arrests on upswing in areaHeroin use appears to be making an unwelcome appearance on the local drug scene.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Heroin use appears to be making an unwelcome appearance on the local drug scene. Five adults were arrested last week in connection with the transport and sale of heroin and have subsequently been charged in Carlton County Court on counts ranging from fifth-degree possession to aiding and abetting fifth-degree possession and introduction of contraband into a correctional facility.
Investigation into heroin trafficking in the area was spurred by the death of a Cloquet man a couple of weeks ago who was found to have overdosed on an opiate at a local motel.
Cloquet Police detectives and the Minnesota State Patrol later received information that there’s been an influx of heroin coming into the community in recent weeks. Subsequent investigation revealed that several local individuals had been traveling to the Twin Cities area to buy the drugs and transport them to Carlton County to sell.
According to the criminal complaints filed in the first incident, while on routine patrol in Carlton County on April 9, Minnesota State Patrol Trooper David Vereecken received information from Cloquet police detectives that a vehicle with multiple occupants had made a trip to the Twin Cities area to purchase and transport an unknown quantity of heroin back to the city of Cloquet.
Detectives also supplied a description of the vehicle and the name of one of its suspected occupants, Eugene Samuel Olson Jr., 25, of Minneapolis.
Vereecken then began monitoring northbound traffic on Interstate 35 in and around the Highway 33 corridor until he received information that the vehicle had been spotted along the frontage road near Wal-Mart. He and another state trooper located the vehicle in a nearby parking lot with two males standing outside of it. Troopers identified one of the men as Olson, who they noted appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance at the time. A pat down search revealed four packets of heroin in Olson’s right front pocket, and Olson volunteered the information to troopers that it was for personal use and not intended for sale.
A second person identified himself as John Ralph Wright (later found to be a false name).
One of the troopers then spotted an orange cap to a hypodermic needle in plain view on the front passenger seat of the car, as well as a syringe with a small amount of liquid inside it. He later found an empty bindle bag and a pill bottle with some liquid still in it under the front seat as well as a wallet bearing the identification of the passenger, who turned out to be Anthony William Wright, 24.
Olson and Wright were then arrested and taken into custody and later charged with one felony count each of fifth-degree controlled substance crime.
In the second incident, Cloquet police detectives received similar information regarding the transporting of heroin from the Twin Cities area to the Cloquet area by three other individuals.
On the evening of April 11, authorities spotted a black Dodge Nitro meeting the description of the car owned by one of the individuals traveling northbound on Interstate 35 near Sturgeon Lake. They followed it to Carlton County where it was eventually stopped, and the three occupants were identified as Michael Lee Fox, 25; his girlfriend, Danielle Lee Webster, 20; and John Vincent Blanchard, 32, all of Cloquet.
Having secured a search warrant in advance, police informed the three they were about to conduct a search of the vehicle and their persons.
Webster then volunteered the information that she had some heroin concealed in her crotch, and after retrieving it she turned it over to police. She was arrested, along with Fox, who attempted to destroy a quantity of heroin he had on his person enroute to the Law Enforcement Center.
Blanchard, the driver of the vehicle, was found to be suspended at the time he was apprehended and was believed to have had full knowledge of his passengers’ intent to purchase heroin on the trip to the Twin Cities. He was subsequently charged with one felony count of aiding and abetting a fifth-degree controlled substance crime and one count of driving after suspension.
As the three were being booked, Webster was found to have an additional quantity of a controlled substance on her person at the jail. She was charged with one felony count of fifth-degree drug possession, one gross misdemeanor count of introducing contraband into prison, and one misdemeanor count of pharmacy possession. Fox faces one felony count of fifth-degree drug possession and one misdemeanor count of obstructing the legal process.
The defendants in both cases made initial appearances in Carlton County Court on Wednesday morning. Blanchard and Webster are both set for omnibus hearings on May 7. Fox is set for an omnibus setting on May 2, and Olson will appear for a Rule 8 hearing on May 2.
Olson, Webster and Blanchard are currently out on supervised release. Wright didn’t meet the criteria for supervised release because he had outstanding warrants against him and he remains in jail on $15,000 bail. Fox, likewise, is not a candidate for supervised release because he was already on probation at the time of his arrest.
According to Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande, detectives investigating the incidents believe the renewed interest in heroin likely stems from a number of things, including an increasing disenchantment among illegal drug users with formerly popular prescription drugs. He explained that prescription drugs became what could almost be described as the “drugs of choice” for users over the past 10 years, but they have slowly begun to fall out of favor for a number of reasons.
“For one thing,” said Lamirande, “it’s often cheaper to buy heroin than prescription drugs.”
In fact, according to a story by the Associated Press, a “button” of heroin – enough for one person to get high – can cost as little as $6. Also, heroin is often easier to get than marijuana, according to Jim Shroba, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent in charge of the St. Louis office.
Michael Boese, assistant Carlton County attorney, explained that drug makers have also acknowledged that prescription drugs have become popular for illegal use, so in many cases the companies have altered their formulas so those drugs cannot be transformed into liquid form to be snorted or injected.
As a result, drug users seem to be once again turning to heroin, which Lamirande said has inherent dangers of its own in addition to being illegal.
“With heroin, you never know what a safe amount is,” said Lamirande. “Someone might have used an eighth of a gram in the past and not experienced an overdose, but the heroin might have only been 50 percent pure. The next time, he or she might use the same amount, but it could turn out to be 93 percent pure and the result could be far different.”
Lamirande reiterated that the increase in the use of heroin is of great concern for the area.
“When I was a cop on the street,” said Lamirande, “I only remember a handful of arrests for heroin. Now, there were five of them in just the past week on two different warrants, and we had a fatal overdose in town as well.”