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488 pounds of meth seized in Minn. last year

ST. PAUL—One pound of methamphetamine used to be considered a big drug bust by Minnesota law enforcement.

This year, however, a single meth seizure operation can yield between five and 35 pounds.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported Monday, March 6, that drug task forces seized a record 488 pounds of meth throughout the state in 2016, a more than 484 percent increase from 2009.

In just one year, meth seizures more than doubled.

"The methamphetamine is really off the charts in the state of Minnesota," Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen said. "We've never seen this before."

Bohlen chairs the Violent Crime Coordinating Council, which the state Legislature established to oversee Violent Crime Enforcement Teams.

These task forces of city, county and tribal law enforcement investigate narcotics, gangs and violent crime.

The task forces currently serve 70 of the state's 87 counties.

The teams also reported soaring numbers of prescription pills, which include opioids, being seized.

More than 58,000 pills slated for illegal sale in Minnesota were confiscated last year, representing a 231 percent increase from 2015.

Although a bulk of the state's 2016 seizures of pills and meth was concentrated in the Twin Cities, the number of heroin seizures in greater Minnesota, 2,024, was comparable to the metro's 2,919.

Counties without the service, most of which are scattered throughout greater Minnesota, sometimes rely on associate task forces to battle their drug trades.

Gov. Mark Dayton included an additional $1 million in task force funding each year at the council's recommendation, which could help the remaining counties access partnerships with teams throughout the state.

The proposal for new spending comes as the state sits on a $1.65 billion surplus, but Chairman Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, of a House public safety committee said he is not sure how the additional funding would compete with the multitude of requests this year.

"The governor has been very beneficial to almost everyone in the public safety budget, and I would wholly expect the committee to be supportive of the extra money he has allotted," he said. "We have not received our targets yet for our separate jurisdictions, so until then I won't know."

Cornish said his top priority for public safety is securing more than $8 million for police training for dealing with mentally ill or suicidal individuals, along with teens in crisis situations.

The state's pursuit of a weakened drug trade, Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman said, must address the demand for drugs.

"Law enforcement is working hard to get the drugs off our streets, and stop them from coming into our state, but we can't win this battle alone," Dohman said. "We simply cannot enforce our way out of this problem."

The state Human Services Department proposes a revamped approach to treating substance abuse.

The proposal aims to allow those seeking treatment to go directly to their providers for an assessment and would allow direct reimbursement for providers and site-based treatment programs.

Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper with the department said including multiple entities in the drug treatment model would result in greater rate of success in combatting Minnesota's rising drug problems.

"The key to this is working across agencies and with local communities, and with all of these wonderful local partners we have here today to ensure the services we are providing to providers and families are making a real difference in moving the outcomes we want to see happening in the state of Minnesota," she said.

Minnesota drug facts

• Although the number of heroin, prescription, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana seizures have grown considerably since 2012, the number has dropped for crack. Task forces reported seizing 2.75 pounds of crack in 2012, but only 1.3 pounds in 2016.

• Law enforcement traces most methamphetamine that enters Minnesota to Mexico.

• Fentanyl, a powerful elephant tranquilizer, has been found in street drugs like heroin. Law enforcement officers say the the drug, which increases likelihood of overdose, likely comes from China.

• Twin Cities area methamphetamine seizures have far outpaced those in greater Minnesota. The number for the Twin Cities has grown from 71,810 grams in 2014 to 171,807 grams in 2016. In greater Minnesota, the total amount of meth seized grew from 29,564 in 2014 to 49,416 in 2016.

• The number of illegally marketed prescription pills seized in the Twin Cities area grew from 6,456 pills in 2014 to 46,652 in 2016. The number of pills seized in greater Minnesota during that time, however, has been relatively consistent, with 11,942 pills obtained in 2014, 12,679 in 2015 and 11,926 in 2016.

Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety