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Meth seizures hit new high in Southeast Minnesota as Olmsted County heroin overdoses increase

Southeast Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Team commander highlights recent increases.

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Drugs seized by the Southeast Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Team are displayed.
Contributed / Olmsted County Sheriff's Office

ROCHESTER — An increase in methamphetamine use and related police investigations is adding stress to a local task force budget.

“We used to buy meth in ounces, and now we are buying it in pounds. It is that much more prevalent in the last year,” Capt. Mike Bromberg of the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office told county commissioners Tuesday.

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He said the street value of methamphetamine has dropped from $5,000 a pound to $2,500 in recent years, but the amount of the drug seen is increasing.

So far this year, the Southeast Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Team has seized more than three times the amount of methamphetamine confiscated last year.

“We are going through a lot more money purchasing evidence,” said Bromberg, who is commander of the regional team.

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He said the added drug amounts mean the $80,000 for drug purchases is spread thin. However, reported seizures from throughout the eight-county region come from the use of search warrants and traffic stops, as well as undercover purchases.

The Violent Crime Enforcement Team has an annual budget of approximately $432,000, with more than half the funding from a state grant. Cities and counties participating in the program each contribute $7,900 to the effort.

Bromberg said the increase in methamphetamine throughout Southeast Minnesota appears to stem from connections to “super labs” in Mexico.

“In years past, a lot of our dealers would deal with someone in Chicago, Los Angeles or Dallas,” he said. “Now, these phone calls go directly from Rochester or Byron to Mexico.”

He said local dealers are driving to Mexico to pick up the drugs, which have been discovered to be up to 99% pure.

The purity, he said, adds to the challenge of detecting use.

“People who can use a little bit of it, don’t show the signs of the meth head as we think of,” he said, saying open sores and “twitchy” movements associated with methamphetamine users might not be seen in people who are using it for a regular boost throughout the day.

In addition to facing an increase in methamphetamine use, Bromberg said the task force has been tracking a two-year surge in drug related deaths, most commonly linked to fentanyl replacing heroin.

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“Fentanyl and opioids cause more death, but meth is more prevalent,” Bromberg said, adding that the combination causes added challenges.

In 2020, Olmsted County saw 29 documented overdose deaths, and that number jumped to at least 47 last year, he said. A couple of suspected overdose deaths are still being reviewed, and deaths in emergency rooms are not tracked.

Sheriff Kevin Torgerson said state legislation is being considered to help track ER overdose deaths with the hope of obtaining a better understanding of what is happening in the community and state.

“There are a lot of different things that have to come into play here,” he said, adding that tracking all overdoses will help better understand the source of drugs.

Bromberg said drug education, treatment and access to drugs to reverse the impact of an overdose appear to have limited effects without a better understanding of deaths and other outcomes.

For now, he said continued drug enforcement appears to be the best available approach to altering negative outcomes.

“Intercepting it is the best way we can do it,” he said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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