Leaders, community vow to continue fight against fentanyl

The Confluence opens its doors for moving, inspiring community International Overdose Awareness event

By John McLoone
Posted 9/8/23

It was the first-ever public event in the ballroom at the The Confluence, the new hotel, restaurant and event space on the banks of the Mississippi River.  

It will be hard for any future …

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Leaders, community vow to continue fight against fentanyl

The Confluence opens its doors for moving, inspiring community International Overdose Awareness event


It was the first-ever public event in the ballroom at the The Confluence, the new hotel, restaurant and event space on the banks of the Mississippi River. 

It will be hard for any future event to match how powerful the nearly two-hour International Overdose Awareness Day gathering held there on Thursday, Aug. 31. More than 100 people – politicians, community leaders, family members and friends – heard speakers urging for more to be done to fight too-easily available fentanyl. A table at the front of the room with pictures of those who died from overdose framed the event. 

Former State Rep. Tony Jurgens of Cottage Grove served as event master of ceremonies. It was the third annual Hastings International Overdose Awareness Day ceremony. Bridgette Norring spearheaded the events, following the tragic overdose of her 19-year-old son, Devin, in 2020. Devin believed he was buying a Percocet painkiller tablet. The fentanyl in the pill he was supplied killed him. 

The Norrings have channeled the tragedy into a mission to spread the word about illicit fentanyl readily available to young people through sales on apps like Snap Chat. They have formed the Devin J. Norring Foundation, to focus efforts on community education and raising awareness of the illicit manufactured fentanyl crisis. 

Pastor Jim Bzoskie of Cornerstone Bible Church in Hastings started the evening with a message of reflection. 

“We are here to encourage one another. We do need encouragement,” he said. “We are broken hearted. We can’t help but have tears in our eyes. We don’t want to lose one more. We’re here today, and we’re going to ask God’s help.” 

That led into public safety representatives talking about what’s happening in Hastings and every community in Dakota County. 

Police Chief David Wilske read a proclamation from Hastings Mayor Mary Fasbender naming Aug. 31 as International Overdose Awareness Day in Hastings. He said that year to date, the Hastings Police Department has responded to 24 overdose calls. On 17 of them, Naloxone was administered. Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. 

“Nine of those cases, we had to give multiple doses. We were up to four in one case,” Wilske said. 

Naloxone is available at all pharmacies in Hastings over the counter. 

“Community members are administering Naloxone more than ever. Our officers are coming to scenes, and it’s already been administered,” said Wilske. “The Minnesota Legislature voted that all law enforcement officers have to have two doses of Narcon (a brand of Naloxone). The Hastings Police Department has been doing this for years.” 

Wilske said the fight against fentanyl needs to be from the whole community. 

“It takes a community to raise a child. It just doesn’t rely on police, our fire department, our paramedics, our pasters. It relies on all of us,” he said. “When you talk about statistics, one overdose is too many.” 

Jurgens said that when he served as a State Representative, he rode with the Minneapolis Police Department. 

“I knew it was just a matter of time that we came across an overdose, as we did,” he said. The victim had what is a trademark snore of an overdose victim and was drooling heavily. 

“He was suffocating. He was very near death. If that person that came out into the hallway that did not know this guy hadn’t done that and called 911, that individual would have died,” said Jurgens. One shot of Narcon, and it wasn’t even a minute – 30 seconds and he perked up. He went from near death to thinking he was fine and not even wanting to go to the hospital in less than a minute.” 

“I asked one of the EMTs, how often are you administering to the same people. Too often but as many as it takes. I want to thank all of our EMTs and police and fire, the ones making those calls, the ones bringing those people back as many times as it takes,” said Jurgens. 

Dakota County Captain Bryan Hermerding said the fight in the community is more difficult, with an explosion of fentanyl. He said 112,000 illegal fentanyl pills were seized in 2022 in Dakota County. ‘ 

“That was more in 2022 than we’ve ever seen in our history,” he said. “We have four months left to the end of the year, we’ve seized over 350,000. It could be close to a half-million pills.” 

“That’s why this is so important, raising awareness, getting the word out. It starts here. It starts in this room. Please, please, please talk to your children,” Hermerding said. 

The source of many of the sales are common apps like Snap Chat. 

“Snap Chat, social media, encrypted apps, they’re tough for law enforcement to deal with,” he said. 

He gestured to the table with victims’ pictures. “At least we can go forward, and we’re doing something positive in these folks’ memories,” he said. “We’ll never stop bringing families the justice they deserve. That’s never going to stop.” 

Justin Thomas, an addiction counselor at Allina Health credited the Norring Foundation. 

“This is a wonderful example of a community getting together to do the best it can to be stronger,” he said. “We’re here to try to prevent the next tragedy, which is a really strong thing to do, and this is a great turnout.” 

Natalia Shevstova gave a moving tribute to her sister Anastasia, who died of fentanyl poisoning in April 2022 at just 15 years of age. 

“I didn’t just lose a sister. I lost a best friend,” she said. “It’s taken me over a year to be able to think about the night she died. It’s hard to imagine when someone this close to you dies, just dealing with the fact you’re never going to grow up together.” 

Natalia said Anastasia had everything going for her. 

“She wanted to join the Air Force. She was going to be a pilot. She wanted to be a mom. She had this whole backup plan for working and me taking care of her kids. She was amazing at everything she did,” Natalia said. “She was 15, and I can’t remember the last conversation we had. It’s very difficult. It’s still hard to come to terms with what happened.” 

Events like this one help the whole community. 

“I’m really thankful for everybody who is here. It feels really good to see how many people care and want to make a difference,” Natalia said. 

Jurgens agreed. 

“When this issue first came to me a few years ago, what I noticed was everybody seemed to be pointing a finger. The schools needed to do more. The police needed to do more. The county needed to do more. I saw that completely shift. Instead of the finger pointing, I saw people coming together and realizing everyone has a hand in it,” he said. 

Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar sent a recorded message to the event. She said that in 2021, there were 978 deaths from opioid overdoses, 834 from synthetic drugs including fentanyl. 

“More Minnesotans died from opioid overdoses than from car crashes. Three each day. These are more than just numbers or trends. These are moms, dads, daughters, friends, loved ones. These are Devin,” she said. “Thanks for paving the way for a future without these tragic overdoses.” 

U.S. Rep Angie Craig has come to all three Hastings events. She pledged to continue fighting the fentanyl epidemic. 

“All the stories you share with me personally, Bridgette, I look, Devin is in this room tonight thorough the work that you and your family are doing here,” Craig said. “This is a complex challenge that’s going to take a whole community approach to even make a dent in.” 

Americans need to realize how serious this problem is, and she wondered why there aren’t more mental health and treatment centers. 

“Are you telling me this is not the crisis it is. It is the leading cause of death in this young category. I have to tell you, I’m also kind of a pissed off congresswoman. I don’t think this country is making this the American crisis that it is,” said an emotional Craig. “Sure, there’s education and prevention. Sure, there’s treatment, if you can get a bed. But that’s part of the problem. I can tell you that mental illness and addiction is a disease just like any other disease we have in our country. That is the crisis we have to take on aggressively.” 

State Rep. Shane Hudella urged people to “have the courage to say something” if they fear someone is fighting addiction. 

“I think we all need to realize fentanyl doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, you’re black or white. It doesn’t care what your background is. One pill can kill you.” 

Bridgette Norring was thankful for the turnout and support of overdose awareness and the Devin J. Norring Foundation. 

“Without you being here tonight, we couldn’t get the message out to our community,” she said. “That is what is most important to our family.” 

“My family knows the pain of losing a loved one all too well. It’s a true living nightmare we wake up to every single day,” she said. “Devin and the young man who he was with, I refuse to call that person a friend, they went onto Snap Chat and purchased what they thought was a Percocet from a well-known repeat drug dealer in our community.” 

She showed graphics from the social media platform about drug availability. 

“I show you this because this is what our teens are seeing on Snap Chat. Snap Chat is one of the biggest open air drug markets available to our children. They are leading these drug dealers and cartels to our doorsteps, unbeknownst to us parents,” said Norring. “I can remember that day perfectly. The trauma that has left our family, especially our children with, it’s horrible. I know if Devin knew there was a chance he would die, he wouldn’t have taken that pill. Devin loved his family and his friends.” 

Norring was invited to an event at the White House the same evening. 

“It’s an honor to get that invitation. It took me less than a second to decline that invitation,” she said. “I knew that tonight was our event and my community’s and my promise to my son that I would do something.” 

“I am selfish. I want to save more than one. I want to save them all,” Norring said. “I’ve come to know so many of these young adults in town. As an adult, as a parent, that is my job. As a community member, that is my job to look after my community.”