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Marijuana, meth still the top local drugs in 2017

MANKATO — Marijuana is still king among Mankato-area drug users, methamphetamine is still the most destructive, and the opioid epidemic plaguing other parts of America is still not a widespread problem locally, according to statistics from the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force.

The task force — which covers Blue Earth, Nicollet, Watonwan and Martin counties — made 165 drug-related arrests in 2017, said task force Cmdr. Jeff Wersal. That's a 10 percent jump from the previous year, and the total number of cases handled rose a similar amount.

"For the last five or six years, it's the most cases," Wersal said.

The growth could indicate growing illegal drug use, but it could also reflect additional enforcement efforts by the task force, which added a fifth officer in 2017, he said.

The numbers didn't show any major changes in drug preference such as skyrocketing use of heroin or opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and codeine that have devastated other regions of the United States.

"I don't know why, because Rochester's got a problem, so does the metro and so does northern Minnesota," Wersal said.

Among other work, the task force attempts to set up buys from drug dealers using undercover officers or cooperating informants.

"Heroin is just tough to find," he said.

Fewer than 4 grams of heroin (about one-seventh of an ounce) were seized or purchased in undercover drug buys by the task force in the four counties last year, which compares to 14,574 grams of marijuana and marijuana concentrates (32.1 pounds), 1,392 grams of methamphetamine (3.1 pounds), and 149 grams of cocaine (about a third of a pound).

Opioids do show up in the area but almost exclusively as illegally obtained prescription pills and fentanyl patches.

Roughly half of the 1,454 prescription pills obtained by the task force were opioids with most of the rest being the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the ADHD-drug Adderall. The number of prescription pills seized or purchased rose by more than 50 percent last year.

One reason heroin and related opioids haven't made major inroads in the Mankato area is that the large population of young adults aren't attracted to it.

"It's really not a college student drug," Wersal said. "They're more into the cocaine and party drugs (such as MDMA drugs commonly known as ecstasy and molly)."

The purchase and seizure of traditional marijuana (nearly 30 pounds) was up more than 57 percent, and the amount of marijuana concentrate — oil, wax and marijuana edibles — nearly doubled. Much of that, including popular THC-infused Gummy Bear knock-offs, came from Colorado and other states where the products are legal, he said.

The amount of meth obtained was up 77 percent, and Wersal said that drug continues to be the most destructive in south-central Minnesota in undermining the health of users, disrupting families and prompting crime by addicts desperate for money for future meth purchases.

"Just about every crime — burglary, robbery — you can link back to drug use and a large majority of the time it's meth," he said.

Along with the seized drugs and the arrests, the task force removed 19 children from the homes of drug-abusing or drug-selling caregivers in 2017. Forty-four firearms were seized.

The only drug the task force saw less of last year was cocaine, and that's because 2016's number was inflated by a single case in St. James where 2 pounds of cocaine was seized.

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