Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Announces Focus on Fentanyl Initiative

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hennepin county sheriff dawanna s witt

Media Release


Media Contact: Jeremy Zoss, 612-919-5918


Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Announces Focus on Fentanyl Initiative

September 14, 2023 (Minneapolis) - Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt joined Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County Opioid Response Coordinator Julie Bauch, and families affected by fentanyl in announcing the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office’s Focus on Fentanyl initiative and corresponding public education video series. The initiative aims to increase awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and connect the public to resources provided by public safety and public health experts. 

The first video, released Thursday [link], discusses the life and premature loss of Seth Carlson of Bloomington, who passed away from fentanyl at age 17 in 2022. Seth’s mother, Tabbatha Urbanski, joined Sheriff Witt for Thursday’s press conference. 

“If your life has not been personally impacted by opioids, it’s easy to try to ignore it - ‘out of sight, out of mind,” said Sheriff Dawanna Witt. “But with opioids killing more than one person every day in Hennepin County, that approach is not working.”

Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker shared harrowing statistics, showing the increase from 79 opioid deaths in Hennepin County in 2011 with four related to fentanyl, to 378 opioid deaths in 2022, with 358 related to fentanyl in Hennepin County alone. That represents an increase of 378% in just 11 years. 

"From a public health perspective, the finality of fentanyl is very different from other substance use crises,” said Julie Bauch, Hennepin County's opioid response coordinator. “That’s why Hennepin County is making significant investments in community-based interventions that address racial disparities and will focus on prevention, response, and treatment.”

Hennepin County Investigative Bureau Major Rick Palaia discussed the partnership between city, county, state, and federal partners in addressing the fentanyl crisis. “Separate agencies working on this by themselves will never be as successful as a coordinated effort. I am proud to say that we are working together more closely than ever to address this extremely pressing issue,” said Major Palaia. 

After briefly sharing the impact that fentanyl has taken on Sheriff Witt’s own family, she made a plea to discuss substance use more openly so that lives can be saved. “We have to end the stigma around substance use. Drug use should not be a death sentence. But it is increasingly deadly due to one substance: fentanyl.” She continued, “Our Focus on Fentanyl initiative is about letting families know that our role in addressing the opioid crisis is not just about enforcement. It isn’t about putting people in jail or criminalizing addiction. It is about preventing death and further harm to our communities.”


Look for more news on the Hennepin County Sheriff's website at hennepinsheriff.org.