Heroin use is a growing problem in the Twin Cities, and community members came together in Anoka on Thursday night to hear personal stories of addiction and learn more about what can be done.
The statistics are startling, and the death toll is climbing year over year -- but officials say the first step in solving the problem is raising awareness. That's what the Anoka County forums aim to do.
"I started using heroin at 16. I started using marijuana at 14, so it was a real quick progression," Der'rel Bourke-Fisk, a recovering heroin addict, told Fox 9 News. "Definitely got violent real fast."
Bourke-Fisk is thankful to have been one of the handful of speakers at the Ramsey forum on Thursday evening.
"I've overdosed 10 times, 5 times hospitalized," he admitted. "I woke up in the back of an ambulance. I had to get shot up with Narcan, which pretty much means you are dead. It brings you back to life."
The first-hand accounts are harrowing, but law enforcement officers say they underscore a blunt truth.
"We found out about heroin through the dead bodies showing up in our community," Anoka County Det. Dan Douglas said.
Heroin is ravaging families in Anoka County, which saw 10 heroin-related deaths last year alone and another 6 from methadone. Now, law enforcement representatives are working to engage parents and community members about heroin so that residents can be aware of the warning signs and bust the myths surrounding the powerful opiate before more neighbors, classmates and coworkers are lost.
"It's sad that it has come to those things," Bourke-Fisk said. "I've had 5 friends just in this county that have died because of the same thing I was doing. I should've been dead."
The emotional testimony appeared to resonate with the audience that gathered, and those who attended also heard about some initiatives to fight drugs on the streets and cut down on the prescription drug abuse that often serves as a gateway to heroin.
One more open meeting is planned for Thursday, Feb. 13 in Spring Lake Park. More information can be found online here.