Methamphetamine remained the dominant drug in 2019, judging according to seizures by the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force.
The law enforcement collective that works in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Watonwan and Martin counties seized 124 pounds of meth last year.
Over 100 pounds of that came from a single bust in St. James. Even if that bust hadn’t happened, task force Cmdr. Jeff Wersal said meth seizures more than doubled. The task force seized 4.5 pounds of meth in 2018.
Meth reigns as the drug of choice because it is the cheapest and easiest to obtain, the commander said. The cost of meth dropped 50% or more since 2015, Wersal said, and 100% of it is coming from Mexico.
Locals are no longer attempting to make their own meth. There wasn’t a single meth lab found last year.
The St. James bust was the largest in the task force’s history. Much of the meth allegedly found in the possession of Edward Francisco Soto, 21, and Samantha Jo Korman, 20, in March was dissolved in liquid. Drug traffickers sometimes use that technique to disguise large amounts of meth and later evaporate the liquid to restore it to crystal meth.
Task force agents also seized 25 pounds of marijuana and 649 grams of concentrates containing THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana).
That’s a dip from last year. But Wersal said that doesn’t mean use is on the decline, only that his agents focused their efforts elsewhere this year. Most of the THC he saw was in vaping devices and most of it is coming from Colorado, where recreational use has been legalized.
Abuse of opioids, which include heroin and prescription painkillers, remains relatively low in the region. It’s more prevalent in the Twin Cities and in regions that have an American Indian reservation, Wersal said, adding he is not sure why.
All of the 22 grams of heroin seized by local agents last year contained fentanyl, Wersal said. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and increasingly is being added to illicit drugs to increase their potency.
The task force investigated one fatal overdose involving fentanyl. Beth Leann Roulet, 38, died in rural Mankato in March. It was the first known death in Minnesota caused by a counterfeit opioid medication that contained fentanyl, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Justin Michael Lang, 28, of Lake Crystal, who sold her the pills, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to over 11 years in prison.
Agents seized 32 guns during investigations last year, a jump from 12 the year prior.
The Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force doesn’t do any data tracking regarding the correlation between drugs and other crimes. But from his own observations, Wersal said he’s convinced “drugs and violent crime definitely go together.”
Drug arrests were down overall — from 121 in 2018 to 101 in 2019. But the number of first-degree charges jumped from 19 to 32 — indicating people are possessing larger quantities of illegal drugs, Wersal said.
The drug task force is funded through a combination of a state grant and contributions from area counties and communities.
The collaborative is operating with four agents instead of five this year. The city of Fairmont had provided an officer at its own cost, but Wersal said that benefaction was for three years concluding last year.