The problems of opioid addiction is real and large, but outside the Twin Cities metro, meth remains king.
Treatment admissions for meth in Greater Minnesota have skyrocketed compared to opioids, and deaths due to meth use are on the rise, too.
The findings are part of a study released by the Center for Rural Policy and Development. The report, “It’s an Addiction Crisis,” found that outstate counties are grappling with meth use.
"We've been bombarded with the news of all the deaths from opioids. Our job is to find out what may be the same or different in Greater Minnesota than in the Twin Cities," said Marnie Werner, interim executive director of the Mankato-based center.
"As soon as we started talking to a few county administrators, we found that opioids are a problem, but meth is a bigger problem."
She said information on the opioid crisis tends to be statewide data. "The Twin Cities is so large it skews the statewide data."
Locally, meth reigns
The report's findings were no surprise to Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott.
"Meth continues to be the drug of choice and probably the primary controlled substance we deal with and the drug task force deals with," he said.
"Meth crimes are what's driving our numbers and the drug task force's numbers. There are five times as many meth cases than cocaine ... (and) four times more meth cases than prescription cases."
He said drug addiction often leads to shoplifting, theft or robbery as people look to pay for their addiction.
Werner said it's believed opioid use is higher in the metro because the Twin Cities is a trafficking hub for opiod dealers.
Methamphetamine use spiked in the early 2000s, leading the Legislature to require that pseudoephedrine cold medicines, used to make meth, are sold from behind the counter of pharmacies with limits on how much people can buy.
"Meth use dropped like a rock after that," said Werner, as domestic meth makers had lost access to their ingredients. But meth manufacturing exploded in Mexico and cartels flooded the U.S. market.
"In 2009 meth use shot upward and it's been steadily climbing," Werner said. "The way it's being mass produced, prices have dropped and it's very affordable to people. So these people who have underlying addiction or mental health problems who maybe couldn't afford drugs before can now," she said.
"The addiction numbers are staggering,” Werner said, “But what we don’t often put together in one big package is the impact this is having on county government budgets, law enforcement and local health care providers. And, of course, the most tragic part of the story is the effect this addiction crisis is having on families and especially children.”
Werner said she hopes the study done by the nonpartisan, not-for-profit policy research organization will spur action in the Legislature.
In the last session lawmakers changed the way publicly funded drug treatment, largely administered through counties, is done. "Rather than the 28 days (of treatment) and you're done mentality, they recognized that drug addiction is a long-term issue and you need long-term treatment."
Werner said that while the changes were good, they were focused on opioid addiction and treatment. "We hope they can address meth next year."
The study also looked at three counties with innovative programs to tackle addiction, including Blue Earth County's Yellow Line project.
The project, which has received national recognition, aims to help first-time offenders and low-level criminals battling mental or chemical health issues. They are given the option of receiving treatment and counseling they need and avoid going to jail. Last year 75 people participated in the program.
McDermott said the program gets people help before they spiral into deeper problems and saves money by keeping people out of jail and helping them recover.
"If you get them connected to services sooner rather than later, you're better off. If you put someone in prison for three years, they're going to come out with the same mindset they had."
Treatment numbers climb
After bottoming out in 2009, admissions to treatment for meth have been on the climb in Greater Minnesota, and the numbers are following suit in the Twin Cities, according to the report. In 2016, 7,664 people in Greater Minnesota sought treatment for meth addiction, a 25 percent increase over the year before and almost twice as many as in the Twin Cities (4,386).
In 2001, 27 percent of drug arrests were for meth; in 2017 it was 74 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety; 2,125 arrests involved meth compared to 750 arrests that didn’t. The amount of meth seized by the State Patrol in 2017 more than doubled from the year before (66 pounds compared to 160 pounds).
The rising addiction rates are also causing more children to be born addicted and with serious medical conditions.
The Center for Rural Policy and Development's study can be found at ruralmn.org.