New Olmsted County Board of Commissioners talk fentanyl crisis at first meeting

(ABC 6 News) – Tuesday, Olmsted County held its first board of commissioners meeting of 2023, with quite a few new faces gathered around the table.

One of the main items on the agenda was the drug crisis happening in the county and across the nation, with experts agreeing that more needs to be done to prevent deadly drugs, like fentanyl, from taking any more lives.

At the meeting, new data from the medical examiner’s office was presented as well as a new plea from law enforcement as they figure out a way to handle this issue in 2023.

“It’s gone from just dangerous to literally a Russian roulette,” explained Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Ross Reichard with the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office.

Dr. Reichard says drugs today are more life-threatening than ever before.

“When people talk about this epidemic, it really is and it’s out of control in my opinion. We’ve just seen a trend we’re starting to look at, unfortunately, where we have multiple fatalities at the same scene,” Dr. Reichard explained. “They’ve taken the medications and they’ve been so quickly overcome by whatever they’ve injected, or smoked, or what have you, that not even one person is there long enough to rescue another person or call 911.”

New 2021 data shows that in Olmsted County, there were 31 fatal drug overdoses compared with just 9 five years ago. Of those 31 deaths, 26 were due to fentanyl.

“From what we know and what were seeing, yeah the overdose deaths have increased in ’21 as well as ’22 and I don’t see that that’s stopping anytime soon,” added Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson.

In just the last month, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office uncovered 260 pounds of drugs, according to Sheriff Torgerson.

At Tuesday’s meeting, he requested two new narcotics investigators, something he’s asked the board for in the past.

“We’re seeing these numbers, the pounds increasing tremendously. The cases are far more complex than they ever were. We need the help, I think our community needs the help. We’ve got to do something,” Sheriff Torgerson explained.

Another proposal came from the County Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Mark Ostrem wants to form a group of family members who have been impacted by fentanyl overdoses, who would be willing to put together a statement that can be used at sentencing hearings in fentanyl sale cases.

Ostrem says in doing so, it will have more impact and help hold those responsible for these tragedies accountable.

Commissioners also heard from Olmsted County Public Health officials. They’re still sitting on grant money from a national opioid settlement. That money could be used to help the fentanyl crisis, but they haven’t yet decided exactly where exactly it’s going.