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Fentanyl in Minnesota

At the conclusion of the Cannon Falls Area Triad monthly meeting June 13, Cannon Falls resident Bob Rohl said the presentation on fentanyl didn't sit well with him.

"I'm concerned of where this country is going," Rohl said. "We don't need more chemical addictions. And what the hell to do about it, I don't know."

Rohl, along with a small group of concerned citizens, listened to a presentation by Goodhue County Drug Task Force Investigator Jonathan Huneke about Goodhue County and southeastern Minnesota focusing on fentanyl abuse in the area.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is used for pain relief. The drug is more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.

As an investigator for almost 11 years, Huneke said during his presentation that a few years ago fentanyl wasn't something investigators were completely aware of. Though drugs like fentanyl aren't the predominant problem in the region, he said overdoses are increasing and seizures are becoming more common.

Huneke said meth is likely "95 percent" of the cases that he deals with. He said that in 2015 and 2016 the Southeast Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Team seized 155 grams and 163 grams of meth respectively.

Huneke said during that time those numbers were quite high. In 2017 and currently in 2018, the team has seized 1,091 and 855 grams respectively. Huneke said he thinks they will continue to see numbers increase.

Huneke shared the various methods that drugs are moved through the state and county, focusing on the U.S. Postal Service. Huneke said drug cartels in Mexico will send the drugs to California, where they are then distributed across the country. Since the mail service can't scan and inspect every single package that comes through, packages of drugs slip through.

"A pound of meth was a big seizure back in 2008 or 2009," Huneke said. "For all we know, that could be coming in Cannon Falls today through the mail."

Tracking the various ways money can be exchanged and the increase in social media for drug deals, Huneke said it's difficult to track down the drug dealers and distributors responsible after each offense.

Recently, Huneke said the team was able to track down and bust a large network of drug dealers using the mail service. Huneke said they were able to arrest and learn further information from 15 different sources. While every person they arrested wasn't charged, Huneke said the amount of information they learned will be paramount for future investigations.

"And we expect [to see] more and more coming through the mail," Huneke said. "There's no doubt about it. It's probably going to be a common thing."

Social media dangers

Tracking mail through the Postal Service is difficult, but finding drug dealers and users through social media is next to impossible.

"We're not catching half the people," Huneke said after the meeting. "We're not catching 25 percent of the people."

Huneke said the accessibility of cell phones has made it easier for people to find dealers, not just in the area, but all over the county and state.

"It used to be that when kids have beer parties, if you're from Cannon Falls, you're probably hanging out in Cannon Falls," Huneke said. "Now with a cell phone, you know about the party in Pine Island ... we have a lot of drug deals set up through Facebook Messenger or Snapchat. We see it all the time now, it's getting more prevalent."

Heroin vs. Fentanyl

The difference between heroin and fentanyl has to do with potency and accessibility. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and can be given while in the hospital in pill form or can be a powder bought on the streets.

Huneke said the different forms that fentanyl can take makes it easier for people to reproduce the drug. Huneke showed a home that had a fentanyl production area in the basement, noting the area is far from a chemist lab, with dirty and unkempt conditions.

The drug has increased in popularity, according to Huneke, when drug cartels realized how cheap and potent fentanyl is to reproduce. There are even times when fentanyl can be cut and mixed into a drug like heroin, catching an unsuspecting drug user and causing an accidental overdose.

Huneke said addicts in the Goodhue County area driveto places like the metro area, which he referred to as a "drug hub," to get high. He said addicts will drive back-and-forth multiple times a day, finding a place to get high and staying there.

Mere exposure to the drug can be dangerous. Cannon Falls Police Officer Jill Ekstrom said at the meeting she was recently rushed to the emergency room after responding to a call for an overdose. Ekstrom said she was exposed on the scene to a strong opioid that was absorbed through her skin.

Many police departments — and the Cannon Falls Ambulance Service — carry the drug Narcan, a nasal spray for emergency treatment if a person is having a suspected opioid overdose.

Huneke said for cases involving heroin, one dose of Narcan can counteract the overdose effects. With fentanyl, Huneke said it could take upwards of two or three doses.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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