The West Metro Drug Task Force seized more pounds of methamphetamine last year than it did marijuana, marijuana wax and THC edibles combined. The amount of meth seized by the task force last year was also more than twice the amount it recovered in 2018.
“What happened in 2019 was not an average year,” said Orono Police Chief Correy Farniok, who said the 152 pounds of methamphetamine the task force recovered were in part the result of numerous investigations, some of them years-long investigations, that came to a head last year.
The task force recovered 70 pounds of methamphetamine in 2018; the amount of marijuana and marijuana wax recovered that year was 96 pounds, plus 21.5 pounds of THC edibles. In 2019, marijuana and marijuana wax seized by the task force totaled 119 pounds, plus 6.2 pounds of THC edibles.
“They work on whatever drugs are in the community and they follow the sources,” said Farniok. “That’s what they did this year; they took off pretty big sources that were bringing methamphetamines into the state and the county.”
The drugs seized by the West Metro Drug Task Force (WMDTF) aren’t necessarily taken off the streets of Orono, Mound or other nearby cities, though, and Farniok said the area doesn’t have big-time dealers but that “we have lots of users out here.”
For several years following the so-called “meth peak” in 2003, the drug had slipped into the background as other drugs like heroin and, starting around 2014, fentanyl and other opioids came to the forefront.
The national Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported in its 2019 threat assessment that although fentanyl and opioids are still driving the upward trend in all narcotic overdose deaths, the risk of overdose from stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine “is worsening and becoming more widespread as traffickers continue to sell increasing amounts outside of each drugs’ traditional markets.”
A majority of the DEA’s field divisions located throughout the U.S. reported an uptick in methamphetamine availability between 2017 and 2018, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the rate of overdose deaths from all psychostimulants, including meth, increased nearly five-fold between 2012 and 2018, from .8 to 3.9.
All this puts to data what Orono PD’s Farniok already knew: “It’s everywhere. It’s in every community.”
Farniok attributed some of meth’s resurgence in the U.S. to the heightened risk in using heroin. “People didn’t know what heroin was laced with. Around the U.S. you had massive overdoses with heroin—prescription drugs being laced with fentanyl, carfentanil—and people didn’t know what they were getting so it sort of drove back to methamphetamines,” he said.
Data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the research arm of the CDC, show that heroin, and particularly heroin mixed with fentanyl, was responsible for much of the surge in opioid overdoses since the early 2000’s and especially after 2012.
The shifting pattern back toward meth is also a result of supply and demand, said Farniok. “They’re flooding the market with it,” he said.
Matthew Carns, a sergeant with the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force, which covers McLeod, Carver and Scott counties, said that Minneapolid is fast becoming a hub for the transport of drugs coming up I-35. Muof the meth coming into Minnesota is also coming in more frequently as liquid meth, not the usual crystals, and hidden in washer fluids, he said.
The flooded market has meant a drastic drop in price. A single ounce of methamphetamine in 2003 was worth as much as $2,700, said Chris Fischer, deputy chief for Orono PD. Today, it’s around $500-$600.
“It was a little bit dirty, a little bit stepped on, but now it’s a more direct route,” said Carns who noted the cynical silver lining: meth labs in Minnesota are becoming nearly non-existent. “There’s no need for it. Why mess with a meth lab when it’s actually cheap and good and easy to get?” said Carns.
Southwest Metro’s marijuana numbers, unlike West Metro’s, still outpaced meth in 2019, but Carns said the task force has been seeing “a lot more” meth in its area even in just the past few months and that looking at this year’s projections he expects marijuana and meth to be nearly “neck and neck.”
“Meth is definitely on the rise again,” said Carns.
Orono PD’s Farniok said the drug landscape is a fast-changing picture, which makes local drug task forces so important—officers assigned to these forces can focus on substance abuse activities and have a better chance of making a difference, he said.
There was one high point in West Metro’s 2019 report, however. Fewer prescription drug pills were taken off the streets last year: 2,750 in 2019 compared to 3,982 in 2018.
“I would like to say it’s because people are actually disposing of those [prescription drug pills], but there are so many different aspects,” said Farniok. “I think it’s just a pattern of what’s available or what people’s demand is for.”