Minnesota law enforcement seized a record-high amount of methamphetamine in 2017 for the eighth straight year, with Mexican traffickers supplying what one official called rural Minnesota’s “drug of choice.”

Minnesota’s Violent Crime Enforcement Teams seized more drugs overall in 2017, with methamphetamine, heroin and prescription pills showing some of the most dramatic increases, according to new figures from the state Department of Public Safety. The rise is caused in part by the task force’s focus on mid- to high-level drug dealers statewide, as well as greater international production of some drugs, officials say.

“We are very concerned about the increases throughout the state in all of these categories,” said Statewide Gang and Drug Coordinator Brian Marquart. The Violent Crime Enforcement Teams comprise 21 multi-jurisdictional law enforcement groups across 70 Minnesota counties.

The amount of meth seized increased by about 28 percent from 2016 to 2017, in line with a yearslong pattern of rising meth use in the state. Seizures of heroin nearly quadrupled, to 42 pounds in 2017, compared with 11 pounds the year before.

Most of the meth and heroin come from Mexican drug trafficking organizations, Marquart said. Meth seizures are more common in rural Minnesota, where it’s the “drug of choice,” he said. Heroin seizures are more common in the seven-county metro area.

While law enforcement confiscated about 266 percent more prescription pills in 2017, the increase is partly due to a seizure of more than 100,000 pills by law enforcement in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, Marquart said.

However, as law enforcement officials work to combat the opioid epidemic statewide, they have encountered growing numbers of black-market prescription pills.

“It’s not a concentrated effort that was made on pills,” Marquart said of the rise. “It was, however, a concentrated effort that was made around opiates in general ... whether it’s heroin or prescription opioids or synthetic opioids.”

Marijuana seizures also increased, with officials confiscating nearly twice as much in 2017 compared to 2016. For the past three years, Minnesota agents have noticed that marijuana is increasingly smuggled from states where the drug is legal, Marquart said.

Agents also seized nearly 100 times more hashish or marijuana wax — which contain high levels of THC — in 2017 compared with 2013.

At the same time, confiscations of crack cocaine dropped from 1.3 pounds in 2016 to just over 1 pound last year.


Rilyn Eischens is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.