Methamphetamine is readily available and cheap-and it's a growing problem not only statewide but in Crow Wing County.

County residents treated for alcohol and opiate/opioid abuse declined overall or remained about the same, respectively, since 2009, while those treated for meth went from about 50 that year to 350 cases in 2017, according to a recent report by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"The (drug) cartels have a stronghold throughout the country and even here in Crow Wing County-believe that or not-and again the numbers speak volumes as to the availability of the drug," Sheriff's Sgt. Andy Galles told county commissioners at their monthly committee of the whole meeting.

"It's a supply-and-demand, economics thing, so they've flooded the market. You've driven the price down, you've increased the addiction, burglaries and everything else feed that addiction, so we see a trickle down into other crimes based on the addictions with drugs."

Commissioners heard from Galles and county Adult Services Supervisor Nathan Bertram, who oversees adult mental health, substance abuse and adult protection.

"It's a cheap drug now compared to what it was 10 years ago," Galles said of meth. "Just as an example-when I was heavy in working narcotics cases-to buy 1 ounce of methamphetamine would be nearly $3,000. We can buy that same ounce today for $500 to $700."

Galles and Bertram gave commissioners an update at the Tuesday, Aug. 21, meeting on substance abuse figures related to drugs such as alcohol, crack or cocaine, cannabis, heroin, opiates and meth.

"The cartels are making lots of money, and it's like any other enterprise: The more you push your product, the more money you make," Galles told the commissioners.

In 2009, there were 363 admissions from the county to a chemical dependency treatment program for alcohol, 26 for opiates and 43 for meth. This compares to 279 admissions for alcohol, 25 for opiates and 354 for meth in 2017, according to Galles and Bertram.

"So this stuff is coming from over the border?" Commissioner Paul Koering asked Galles, referring to meth. "So probably a wall would probably be helpful to stop this from coming in?"

Koering's comments were met with momentary silence by those at the meeting, and Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom physically reacted to Koering's comments.

"I'm serious about this Rachel!" Koering said after Nystrom signaled her disbelief.

Nystrom replied, "Has a wall worked in any ...?"

Commissioner Paul Thiede interrupted Nystrom by saying the county would unlikely be responsible for erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico that President Donald Trump has called for, claiming it will deter illegal immigration and crime.

There were 27,550 treated for addiction to alcohol, 3,487 treated for addiction to opiates and 3,434 treated for addiction to meth in 2009, according to the state report; there were 20,476 treated for alcohol, 3,175 treated for opiates and 14,081 treated for meth in 2017.

"I think that's probably one of the most significant takeaways here: The amount of discussion going on about opiates, which those numbers have been rising across the state ... it's not rising as rapidly as meth," said Tim Houle, county administrator.

Galles enlightened the county commissioners about how meth is used and how addictive the illegal substance is for people.

"After three to four times, you've become physically and psychologically dependent upon the drug as to where going cold turkey, if you will, doesn't work very effectively," Galles said of meth. "And obviously the longer you use that drug, the more addictive it is and harder it is to get off it."

Last year, the report found 841 people from the county were admitted to treatment programs in Minnesota versus the 57,154 admissions statewide. About 65 percent of those from the county and the state were male and 35 percent were female, most between 25 to 34 years old.

"Going back 20 years, we had this methamphetamine lab problem, and I figured legislatively and public policy-wise, we were quite a bit behind the eight ball to solving that problem before it really took off," Galles said.

"I think we're getting there with the opioids and such now. If you look at nationwide data and Minnesota data, 72,000 people overdosed last year alone on opioids. That's a lot of people."

Minnesotans treated for alcohol and opiates abuse declined overall or remained about the same, respectively, since 2009 while those treated for addiction to methamphetamine almost tripled during that same period, according to the state human services department report.

"Meth and alcohol have been both co-occurring for long periods of time, and so if you think about it for just a second, in 2016, meth became the more common reason for people to go to treatment in Crow Wing County than alcohol, which is ubiquitous," Houle said.

"This is a runaway problem for us, and what's frustrating to me is I think we're having the wrong conversation. We are talking about opiates, and the rise in the impact of opiates is concerning, but when you look at this data ... meth is clearly our drug of choice. This is an addiction crisis."