MOORHEAD—The region and the nation are facing an opioid crisis, U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Thursday, March 31, during a roundtable discussion she hosted here.

"Innocent people are getting hooked," said Klobuchar, who was joined in her call for action by community members working on the frontlines of efforts to curb the growing problem of opioid addiction, which in some cases leads to heroin use and overdosing.

In recent weeks, the Fargo-Moorhead area has experienced a rash of heroin overdoses, four of which have been fatal.

The message at Thursday's roundtable was clear: Many opioid addictions begin innocently, with people going to their doctors for pain relief.

From there, individuals can quickly become dependant on the drugs, and when prescriptions run out people may try gaming the medical community, going from doctor to doctor for prescriptions.

If that doesn't work, or if prescription drugs become too expensive, people may turn to drug dealers and a new drug, particularly heroin, to get their fix.

"It happened fast for Casey," said Shelly Elkington, a member of Thursday's roundtable and a mother from Montevideo whose daughter, Casey Jo Schulte, died last August at the age of 26.

Schulte, a champion swimmer whose goal in life was to study nursing, was found dead in a Fargo apartment garage. Autopsy results released by the Cass County Coroner's Office cited hanging as the cause of death and found there was evidence of drug use in Schulte's apartment.

Elkington said her daughter became addicted to prescription drugs after she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. She said when her daughter couldn't get prescription medication, she turned to heroin and was dead two months later.

Opioid addiction is rampant among many age groups, including school-age children, confirmed Mike Kaspari, agency director with First Step Recovery, a program of the Village Family Service Center.

Kaspari said about two or three years ago the agency was seeing three to five people a year for opioid addiction. "Today, it's three to five people a day," said Kaspari, who recalled one situation where he thought he was meeting with a parent about a child's addiction and instead half of a local youth sports team showed up.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather," he said.

One reason for Klobuchar's appearance in Moorhead was to rally support for her bipartisan bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which aims to encourage states and local communities to pursue various strategies in the battle against addiction.

Roundtable participants said one thing that helps protect addicts is the collection and destruction of unused prescription medications.

Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said people can anonymously drop off unused medications at the lobby of the Moorhead Law Enforcement Center at 915 9th Ave. N.