Recent Deaths Can’t Deter Minnesota's Synthetic Drug Boom

By Paul Gaita 06/04/14

Despite three overdose deaths in six months and a widespread ban of synthetic drugs, Minnesotans continue using the drugs unabated.

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Tara Fitzgerald. Photo via

Synthetic drug use has skyrocketed in suburban Minnesota, even as three young people have succumbed to overdoses from the compounds in the last six months.

Seventeen-year-old Woodbury native Tara Fitzgerald died on January 11, 2014 after ingesting 25i-NBOMe, an extremely potent synthetic linked to at least 14 deaths nationwide. Less than two months later, a 22-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl in the town of Mankato died on March 5 and March 8 after possibly using 2C-I, a synthetic drug also known as “Smiles” that has been implicated in several deaths, including Sons of Anarchy actor Johnny Lewis in 2012.

Reports from local law enforcement officials also bear out the notion that synthetic drugs have saturated the state. State-funded gang and drug task forces seized 4,648 grams of the drugs in 2012, but the numbers jumped to 1,017,252 grams the following year. Efforts to contain the sale of synthetics in Minnesota have resulted in the closure of several retail outlets, though authorities note that the drugs are still being sold online and by dealers who use legitimate businesses as a blind.

Minnesota has struggled with synthetic drug use in the past, but saw a decline in 2011 after a widely publicized case involving a mass overdose at a spring break party that left 19-year-old Trevor Robinson dead. The incident spurred Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to introduce legislation that resulted in the banning of several synthetics, including 2C-E, the drug that killed Robinson.

Despite these and other efforts, including a 2014 bipartisan resolution by Klobuchar to designate the week of March 9, 2014 as National Youth Synthetic Drug Awareness Week, a survey of 15,539 Minnesota high school students this year revealed that 26 percent used drugs, and 11.9 percent of those individuals had used synthetics – a small but significant rise from statistics culled in a similar 2013 survey.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.