Growing drug abuse and the number of overdoses are taking a toll on the people, families and communities in the Mankato region.

The victims of drug abuse see their families destroyed, and the community often pays the price in the resulting crime: dangerous car chases, burglary, robbery, gun violence and child abuse.

A recent in-depth report published in last Sunday’s Free Press showed drug abuse and overdose deaths are on the rise. While the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force does not keep precise track of the trends, Commander Jeff Wersal said overdose calls have “increased significantly” over the past 12 to 18 months.

The task force tracked 86 suspected overdoses in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Watonwan and Martin counties in 2020, the first year it has been tracking them.

While methamphetamine is by far still the biggest drug problem, four people died last year in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties from fentanyl overdoses. Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid. One victim believed they were taking heroin and the other believed it was oxycodone. Two alleged suppliers of the victims have been charged with second degree murder.

Fentanyl has become particularly dangerous because it is often mixed with heroin to boost potency exponentially.

And while meth prices rose due to COVID restrictions, experts say the price is coming back down, and that will only boost demand.

The toll it has extracted from communities is shocking. A review of Free Press archives for 2020 shows 26 felony level crimes involving meth, the most prominent being the shooting of Waseca police office Arik Matson as he approached a known criminal and convicted meth user.

In another case, a woman found dead in the Blue Earth County jail had swallowed meth. Another meth user who was high caused a fatal crash in Minnesota Lake that killed an innocent woman. A Mankato couple with a 6-month old baby who were meth dealers were found with $200,000 of meth in their apartment.

These examples show that rising drug abuse will continue to wreak havoc on the community.

Drug abuse has been a problem for decades, and Wersal points out law enforcement can only do so much to solve it with arrests and charges. He points to education and prevention as key.

So the solution starts with every parent, every teacher and every adult who deals with young people to do everything they can to provide a healthy, safe environment in which youth can come of age.

Says Wersal: “Enforcement and treatment are important, but they are both reactionary to the problem. Preventing our kids from ever experimenting with this poison is where we will see it start to get better.”

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