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Meth use drops off in Wadena County

Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr said the use of methamphetamine in the county has fallen dramatically.

"We've seen a big dip," he said. "Is it still here? Absolutely. But we're just not seeing it as much."

Carr said the decline isn't just in Wadena County.

"It's not just us," he said. "It's nationwide."

Heidi Happel, community health promotion specialist at Wadena County Public Health, provided information backing up Carr's observations.

According to the Minnesota Student Survey, which tracked admitted drug use among ninth- and 12th-graders in Minnesota from 2001 to 2007, the use of meth "one or more times in the past year" dropped dramatically. In 2001, a total of 4.6 percent of ninth-graders said they had used meth one or more times in the past year. By 2004, that had fallen to 4.2 percent. In 2007, the number dropped to 1.5 percent, a drop of two-thirds from the 2001 rate.

High school seniors reported a similar fall. In 2001, 5.8 percent said they had used. In 2004, that was down to 4.9 percent. In 2007, only 2.2 percent said they were using methamphetamine, a drop of 62 percent in the rate of use.

The cause of the drop is attributed to stepped up law enforcement and a new law to limit the sale of ingredients used to make meth.

Wadena police, sheriff's investigators and drug enforcement task forces have rooted out many of the big dealers in this area, Carr said.

"You take out the big fish, and the little fish say, 'I'm not going to do this,'" Carr explained. "They say, 'This isn't worth losing my life.'"

The sheriff said law enforcement has been successful in flipping low-level offenders on people higher up the drug chain, leading to harsh sentences.

"There's no loyalty in drugs," Carr said. "None."

A Minnesota law also helped dry up meth labs in rural areas of the state. Minnesota observed its highest numbers of (reported) meth labs and other meth-related events (meth chemical dumps, anhydrous ammonia thefts) in 2003 with more than 500 events reported. That number decreased to 320 events in 2004. In 2005, new legislation was passed requiring ephedrine and pseudoephedrine containing drugs to be placed behind pharmacy counters in Minnesota. Buyers are also required to sign a log and show a photo ID before purchasing these drugs. This law is largely responsible for a further decrease in the number of meth lab related events in the state.

In 2005, there were only 128 reported meth production events in Minnesota. Eighty-five percent of these events were reported before the new legislation took effect in July 2005. The declining trend continued in 2006, as there were only 73 meth-related events reported to the Department of Health.

"With legislation putting Sudafed behind the counter -- if there's one thing that's helped us, that's it," Carr said. "That's when the meth labs dried up."

The Minnesota Department of Health reported that in addition to the dangers from manufacturing meth, meth use is associated with:

• increased crime, particularly property crimes, personal violence, child abuse and endangerment,

• increased demand for medical and social services, including, foster- and short-term care, drug and psychiatric treatment, and various public health services,

• increased demands on jails and jail services, fire departments and law enforcement agencies,

• and additional strain on educators, parents and communities.

"You don't have as many burglaries," Carr said. "Not as many thefts."

While the use of meth is on the decline locally, another drug has resurfaced: cocaine. Carr said he's been noticing more cocaine possession, but said use of cocaine may have always been at this level, but it's just getting more attention now that the meth problem has decreased.