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Meth still a big presence in area: Heroin is also on the rise

Jason Rosha with the West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force shows GLASH council members the lethal doses of certain drugs. He was the guest speaker at the council's monthly meeting. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

Nearly 8,000 grams of methamphetamine were seized by the West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force in 2017. This equates to more than 17 pounds, and according to Special Agent in Charge Jason Rosha, it represents a 500 percent increase from what was seized in 2016.

And although marijuana is not a primary focus of the task force, it seized more than 4,600 grams that same year.

The eight agents who focus on a six-county area — Douglas, Pope, Wadena, Becker, Otter Tail and Grant — made 153 arrests and have conducted roughly 235 investigations. More than 80 percent of the arrests were for felony-level crimes, said Rosha, who noted that the task force tends to focus its investigations and arrests on those who commit felony-level crimes.

"Regional trends indicate there is an ever-increasing supply, but it (meth) is not being made locally," said Rosha, who was the guest speaker recently for the Greater Lakes Area Safety and Health Council. "The stuff is being made in Mexico and is pure and relatively cheap — cheap as far as meth goes, but it is an expensive habit."

The council, known as GLASH, was formed in 1992 to help area businesses and professionals to stay current on issues related to safety and health, according to the council's executive leader, Katie Jo Swaggert.

"We bring speakers to present on topics which are top of mind for safety and health in our communities," she said. "Speakers to train on legal updates, OSHA requirements, drugs and more. GLASH members then bring back best practices to their businesses."

Swaggert said GLASH actively seeks to partner with any company — private sector, public or nonprofit — in west-central Minnesota that desires assistance in improving safety and health performance.

Rosha, who has been an Alexandria police officer since 2010 and a member of the task force since 2015, has spoken to GLASH on other occasions. This time Rosha talked about changes in the drug world, and although meth is still an issue, members of the drug task force are starting to see more heroin, as well as opiates.

He said a lot of progress has been made with prescription opiates, with health care professionals working together on the use of opioids with their patients. But an increasing issue is the manufacturing of counterfeit pills.

"Prescription drug abuse is still out there," said Rosha. "But progress is being made, good work is being made with that."

Another issue facing task force members are drugs sold as heroin but are more than likely fentanyl or even carfentanil, which are both synthetic and much stronger than straight-up heroin, he said.

Fentanyl mimics the effects of heroin, and according to Rosha is favored by the drug cartels because they can ship it over in smaller amounts. Additionally, it is easier to conceal because it often is in pill form and housed in prescription drug bottles with fake labels.

Rosha also said that cocaine is making a comeback, especially in those from 18 to 20 years old.

"There's been a big spike in that particular age group," he said. "Why? Because people want a drug that is stronger or harder, but they are scared of heroin."

Rosha said those who use cocaine can get "coked up" on the weekend and then be back to "normal" on Monday, unlike the effects of heroin, which lasts longer.

Mushrooms are starting to make a comeback, he said, and acid and a drug known as "Molly" have started to drop off.

As for ages of people who use drugs, Rosha said drug use in the middle school isn't uncommon. Most middle schoolers who dabble in drugs, he said, tend to try marijuana and some form of pills.

The 16-18 year olds, he said, tend to experiment with harder drugs and people tend to peak by about ages 23-25, which is about the time they start having kids. He said a great motivator for people to get clean is to have their own kids.

"If people are still on something by that age (26-30), they are probably not going to stop," he said.

The oldest person who was arrested by the task force for possession but was not a dealer, said Rosha, was a 72-year-old man who had used drugs on and off for most of his life. The youngest person arrested for selling drugs was 13 years old and the youngest person who was legitimately using drugs and was arrested was a 14 year old.

Drug task force agents encourage the public to be aware and cognizant of their surroundings and for parents to be aware of any changes in behavior in their children. If drug use is suspected, law enforcement agents should be contacted.

The Alexandria Police Department can be reached at 320-763-6631 and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office at 320-762-8151.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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