Special Report


Dramatic rise in call for help

More Minnesotans are seeking treatment for meth abuse than any other drug, and treatment admissions have tripled from the rate of what was considered to be the height of the state’s meth epidemic in the mid-2000s. Meth’s new rise is reaching all corners of the state.






Addiction takes its toll

Perceived as less lethal than other narcotics, meth’s increased potency and availability is triggering an alarming rise in mortality in Minnesota, surpassing 100 deaths for the first time in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.






123 people died in 11 years.

416 people died in the last six.

The source of the epidemic?

Minnesota’s appetite for meth is now being fed by a transcontinental supply chain directed by notorious Mexican drug cartels capable of cranking out a purer — and cheaper — version of the drug than has ever been available. And now those cartels have picked the Twin Cities as their new regional hub for meth trafficking throughout the Upper Midwest.

1Raw materials

Nearly all of the meth bound for Minnesota is made in Mexico. Cartels often rely on chemicals imported from China, but lately have begun making them onsite. Cartel cooks can produce meth that is almost 100 percent pure.

2Production area

Dubbed Mexico’s “Golden Triangle” for its long history of marijuana and heroin production, this rugged mountainous region covering three states is also home to many cartel “superlabs” that can produce 10 pounds of meth every 24 hours.

3Smuggling routes

Cartels usually sneak their product into the U.S. over secure, heavily traveled southwest border crossings. The meth can be mailed in small parcels, packed inside passenger vehicles, or commingled with legitimate goods in the back of tractor-trailers.


A network of cartel-affiliated cells are responsible for storing the meth at stash houses across the country. Meth may make just one stop after crossing the border before arriving in the Twin Cities, a “transshipment point” for meth going to other markets.

Minnesota seizures

State authorities intercepted 625 pounds of the drug last year. That doesn’t include an additional 830 pounds seized by the DEA, whose local agents estimate they are stopping just 10 to 20 percent of the meth that is now being brought to Minnesota.



191 lbs

625 lbs

Twin Cities seizures

“Minneapolis-St. Paul has become a major market,” said Kent Bailey, a former senior U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who now leads a federally funded counternarcotics program in the metro. “You can sit there and keep your head in the freaking sand but the sheer volume of the drugs being seized indicates otherwise.”

Brooklyn Center bust

Though not an exhaustive picture of meth busts around the metro, cases like the 140 pounds retrieved from a Brooklyn Center home one day in 2016 matched the total of meth seized statewide in all of 2013.

Meth en route to Minnesota

Large seizures of meth with links to cells in southern and western states gave agents their first clue that Minnesota had become an essential hub for the distribution to other states.

South Dakota seizure

South Dakota troopers in 2017 stopped a van driven by a Perris, Calf., man. Inside, they found 92 pounds of meth. He later led agents to an Eagan stash house. Others have been caught using legitimate trucking businesses to haul meth here.

Oklahoma traffic stop leads to bust

DEA agents monitor phone calls and develop informants, but many of the agency’s biggest meth cases begin as routine highway stops. A 152-pound bust in January only happened after Oklahoma authorities stopped a young man because his license plate was partly covered.

Restock shipment busted in Texas

Big busts aren’t ending the flow of meth to Minnesota. A month after the January bust, a man thought to be from the same cartel cell was caught in Texas driving 82 pounds of meth here.


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