Last month, the Wright County Sheriff’s Office
coordinated with local police departments in a multi-jurisdictional investigation
of several suspects believed to be trafficking methamphetamine. It was a
reminder that, while meth was a scourge that swept the country 15 years ago, it
isn’t gone – not by a long shot.
If anything, meth is more prevalent than it was when
it first appeared in the early-2000s. After the proliferation of
methamphetamine took off because it could be manufactured by using ingredients that
could be legally purchased in most hardware or drug stores, measures were taken
to limit the purchase of items like cold medicine in an effort to make it more
difficult for meth manufacturers to get the ingredients they needed.
However, as U.S. enforcement tried to stem the tide of
methamphetamine abuse, the supply of the drug has flooded into the drug market
by meth labs in Mexico, where it is produced in “super labs” that can create
massive quantities of the product.
Wright County Sheriff Sean Deringer said that drugs coming
in from Mexico has always been a problem, but the issue has grown in recent
years because of the enormous quantity of the drug available and the proximity
of Wright County in between two metro areas where the drug stream runs to.
“The Mexican cartels are very active in Minnesota,”
Deringer said. “We’ve got two major hubs – St. Cloud and the Twin Cities metro
– on either side of us. There is no shortage of meth. It is absolutely
everywhere. There has never been a shortage of meth and there is probably more
meth on our streets now than ever before.”
The problem with trying to slow the tide of
methamphetamine coming into Minnesota is the cost. An ounce of meth can be
purchased for between $350 and $550, according to law enforcement. Three years
ago, that same ounce of meth would cost between $1,500 and $2,000. The price
that someone would pay for a gram of meth just a couple of years earlier now
allows them to purchase an eighth of an ounce – 3½ times more – of the drug for
the same price.
The conventional wisdom among law enforcement is that,
in the front line battle in the drug war, meth is king, has been for some time
and probably always will be.
The February bust was centered in Annandale, but included
several arrests in multiple jurisdictions and involved the Wright County Sheriff’s
Office, the office’s Special Investigative Unit (SIU) and city police forces
from Annandale, Buffalo and Howard Lake. The SIU officers work undercover, so
they aren’t identified by the dealers and users they’re looking to shut down.
It’s an uphill battle for the small SIU team, but it is gratifying when they
make a bust and take drugs off the streets, as well as those who sell the drug.
“You’re happy when you do the job and you take people
that are affecting communities off the streets,” said one SIU officer. “But,
then it’s back to the drawing board and the next investigation. For every six
people you knock off, 12 more come to the light. For every dealer you knock
off, two more come into play. It’s everywhere. That’s what makes it a beast
right now. They’re not going to go anywhere. You can do what we do 24 hours a
day, but you’re still going to have it on the streets.”
Annandale Police Chief Jeff Herr said small towns aren’t
immune from the scourge of methamphetamine and the havoc it can wreak on a
person’s health and family life.
Once thought to be in retreat, meth has made an
unfortunate comeback and looks to be even more difficult to stop now as it was
in the early-2000s when it first arrived.
“We have to crush methamphetamine because it’s back,”
Herr said. “It’s a problem we thought we had under control – or at least
slowing it down – a few years ago, but it has come back with a vengeance.”
Deringer said the only way to stop the influx of
methamphetamine in Wright County is to increase the number of officers looking
to take on the drug traffickers to take the fight to them. As he sees it, it’s
the only way that law enforcement can put up the kind of battle needed to stop
the proliferation of the drug.
“One of my initiatives is going to be to increase the
staff,” Deringer said. “Right now, we’ve got two investigators and a sergeant
in our SIU unit. That’s window dressing. They’re running their tails off and
could run their tails off 24/7 and never be caught up. If we’re going to do
more than window dressing in Wright County, we need to put some resources to
it. It’s no secret that drug crimes drive almost all other crimes in our area –
theft, fraud, burglary and assault. You name it. It’s all driven by the drug
culture and we need to fight it hard.”