Seizures of methamphetamine in Minnesota surged at an alarming level last year, as have confiscations of other illicit drugs, state public safety officials said, and a major bust already this year suggests the influx is not letting up.

Law enforcement seized nearly 1,150 pounds of meth in 2018, a total that tops the previous two years combined and is more than five times the amount in 2014, according data released last week by the state Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The upward climb of meth seizures in Minnesota signals an increased demand for the drug among addicts and follows the trend nationally, the DPS said.

The production of meth in labs in Minnesota has fallen off dramatically since their height of popularity in 2003, when 410 labs were seized by law enforcement, the state agency said. There were fewer than 30 seized in the state in 2018, the ninth straight for the total being below that number.

But with in-state lab production down sharply, "most of the meth is coming from Mexican drug-trafficking organizations," the DPS said in a statement accompanying the latest drug seizure statistics.

Dr. Tyler Winkelman, a physician and researcher at Hennepin Healthcare, said the "unintended consequences of getting rid of local meth labs with the crackdown on Sudafed" — the over-the-counter product that provides a key ingredient for making meth — is "that opened up the meth cartels from Mexico."

The past few years have seen a resurgence of pure, cheap Mexican-made meth being pumped into Minnesota for both sale here and shipment to neighboring states.

Winkelman, who sees the ravages of meth use on people not only at Hennepin Healthcare but at the county jail, says meth addiction in Minnesota and around the country is a more serious public health problem than the much-recognized opioid crisis.

Particularly troubling to Winkelman, he said, is "there is no effective treatment for methamphetamine use" like there is for opioid addiction.

Also, he added, "there is not a lot of research in this area. We [at Hennepin Healthcare] are the only people to report on meth use nationwide in the past 10 years. This issue is really under the radar."

As recently as late last month, drug task force agents in southern Minnesota rounded up a significant haul of meth in various forms totaling nearly 120 pounds. That single case represents more than 10 percent of what was seized in all of 2018's unprecedented year.

Agents set up an undercover drug purchase in Mankato and arrested a 21-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman from nearby St. James, alleged to have 10 ounces of meth in their possession.

Later that evening, agents searched their home and located roughly 118 pounds of suspected liquid meth, 14 ounces of crystal meth and a stolen handgun.

Cocaine is another illicit drug that is making its way from south of the U.S. border and fueling a surge in seizures.

After years of decline, cocaine seizures in Minnesota have grown in each of the past three years to 59 pounds in 2018. That's five times as much seized in 2014.

Meth is not alone among illicit drugs prompting more law enforcement seizures. Combining the past two years, marijuana confiscations totaled nearly 7,100 pounds, the DPS data showed. That's far above the 2014-16 time frame of more than 5,700 pounds. On March 2, two men from Montana were arrested by the Minnesota State Patrol near Alexandria with 900 pounds of marijuana and marijuana concentrate as they traveled along Interstate 94 in a pickup pulling a camper.

As that bust illustrates, state authorities say the marijuana is coming from states where recreational use of the drug is legal. The possibility of legalization is now before the Minnesota Legislature.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482