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Senators Host Conference to Battle Drug Epidemic

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Authorities say drug use has become widespread in the Bakken.

North Dakota Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven along with Montana Senator Jon Tester sat with National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske to discuss ways to fight drug abuse with federal, state, and local agencies.

With the advent of the Bakken Boom, the North Dakota landscape has changed drastically. You see more trucks, more people, more rigs and wells, but what you may not see behind closed doors is a dramatic increase in drug trafficking.

These drug rings aren't just run by run of the mill violators, but connected directly to Mexican drug cartels, according to North Dakota U.S. Attorney, Tom Purdon.

"It's not six degrees of separation anymore to the Mexican cartels. I can tell you there are people living in places like New Town and Watford City that can drive to Sacramento and meet with a representative of the Mexican cartel to get drugs and bring it back to North Dakota. It's one degree," says Purdon.

That's because with oil, comes money. Lots of it.  

"The profit margin is huge," says Dan Donlin of the Bismarck Police Department. He says, "400 dollars a gram in New Town area is what they can get versus 20 bucks in California."

Among the biggest problems: meth and prescription narcotics. But local, state and federal agencies in this room aren't focusing on the criminality of drug offenses to battle this epidemic.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of our drug problem," says National Drug Control Policy Director, Gil Kerlikowske.

Drug addiction is a public health concern and agencies advocate better treatment services, prevention, and education to build healthy communities.

"Once these habits form and people get into those behaviors, it's terrible to break them. and that's where our treatment facilities come in," says Jessica Paul, a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions. "But if we can target teens and the younger generation before they get into those habits. It takes the pressure off everyone in this room."

"When we all work together, the treatment, and prevention and education and law enforcement, we can make a difference," says Kerlikowske.

Montana was one of the top 10 states for illicit drug dependence and abuse among young people in a national survey. And earlier this month, federal law enforcement indicted more than 20 people for running a  drug ring in northwestern North Dakota.


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