Meth, Opioid Use and Police Seizures Skyrocket in Minnesota

By Paul Gaita 03/07/17

A new report highlights the detrimental impact of the growing Minnesota drug trade. 

Police officer cataloging during drug bust.

A report from Minnesota's Department of Public Safety (DPS) revealed in stark terms a huge escalation in both the amount of street drugs, including methamphetamine and prescription pain medication, used and seized by law enforcement across the state in 2016.

In a press conference on March 6, the department reported that more than 488 pounds of meth were seized by Violent Crime Enforcement Teams (VCET)—a multi-jurisdictional task force partially funded by the federal Justice Department—which represented a 484% increase since meth seizures were recorded at their lowest levels in 2009. More than 58,000 pills, including opioids, were also seized, which represented an increase of 231% over statistics from 2015.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) also reported sizable seizures in 2016, including more than 360 pounds of meth and 230 pounds of marijuana.

Fentanyl also continued to be an insidious and ever-increasing presence in the state; the BCA laboratory received 75 evidence submissions containing the potent synthetic painkiller in 2016, including one case which contained more than 2.7 liters of fentanyl. Just 14 evidence submissions with fentanyl were reported in 2014 and 2015.

The human toll wreaked by the increase in Minnesota's drug trade also reached record numbers in 2016. The state's Department of Human Services reported more than 11,000 treatment admissions for meth in 2016, which represented a hike of 72% over previous peak numbers (6,703) reported in 2005. Treatment for meth outranked admissions for any other drug in 2016, including opioids and marijuana.

Deaths from drug overdose claimed 500 people last year, according to Department of Health figures; the number represents a 400% increase over statistics from 2000, when 129 deaths from overdose were recorded.

To combat this rising tide, Governor Mark Dayton proposed a number of initiatives to help break the grip of the drug trade on his state, and to increase substance abuse treatment options for all residents. These include a budget proposal that would streamline the process of accessing treatment— currently, one in 10 Minnesotans live with a substance use disorder, but only 10% of those who need treatment receive it—and expand the list of benefits covered by Medical Assistance, including care coordination and withdrawal management.

Dayton's budget also proposes an additional $1 million per year in funding to VCETs to increase their presence in all 87 Minnesota counties; additional funding is also proposed to boost the BCA's ability to process the heavier load of drug cases.

The state's law enforcement and health officials are also calling on residents to help in the fight against drug sales and use. "The rate at which drugs are being seized around the state should concern every Minnesotan," said DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman in a statement. "Law enforcement can't win this battle alone. We need parents, educators and peers of those who take drugs to say enough is enough. Together we can save lives."

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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.