NORTH MANKATO — A blaring alarm clock was how Patti Ahl and husband, Barry, became aware something was wrong with their son on an August morning in 2014.
Alex, 21, who came home late the night before, had overdosed on the powerful narcotic fentanyl overnight.
At a community forum on drug trends Wednesday at South Central College, his mother said she’s certain he didn’t know how dangerous the drug was. She hopes no other young people make the same mistake.
“You never think it could happen to you, but it can, it does, and it did,” she said.
The “Know the Truth” forum organized by Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge drew students, parents and local law enforcement and criminal justice leaders for an evening focused on substance use. Ahl was among several speakers, with dozens of parents looking on as she shared her son’s story.
Sadie Holland, Know the Truth’s prevention education manager, said the forum was about educating parents on current drug trends in their communities.
“It’s making sure parents are aware of what to look for, what are warning signs and what resources are available if their student is using,” she said.
While harder drugs remain a concern as drug overdose deaths spike in Minnesota, she said drug trends show teens are increasingly turning to vaping. Minnesota and other states are currently in the midst of an outbreak of lung injuries stemming from vaped THC. The injuries include cases in both Blue Earth and Watonwan counties.
Billie Jo Theissen, a Lake Crystal mother, attended the forum after her 14-year-old daughter came home from school saying a classmate was vaping. Knowing it’s happening even in ninth grade, she said she wanted to know what signs of drug use she should know about.
“It makes me want to know more and know how to talk to her about it,” she said.
A separate presentation for students coincided with the one for parents. Know the Truth's lead presenter on prevention Micah Meline told the students about his years contending with addiction, starting at age 10.
He started with tobacco, was using cocaine by 14, and later went on to methamphetamine and heroin. Now 31, he's sober and wants his story to show students what the addiction lifestyle looks like in the hopes they make different choices.
“That’s always my goal is just reaching one kid who needs that voice,” he said.
The forum was the third of its kind in Nicollet County since last year. The first was at St. Peter High School in 2018, followed by one in the city of Nicollet in early October.
Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer said the events are driven by the idea that everyone in the area needs to be aware of substance use issues. She referenced how area counties are seeing increases in drug-related criminal and child protection cases.
“My hope is more to start a community dialogue that this isn’t just a schools issue or law enforcement issue,” she said. “This requires the whole community to get involved to address the issue."