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Local drugs: Special agents talk cost, abundance and changes in region's illegal drug supply

Jason Rosha, a special agent with the regional drug task force, speaks about the types of drugs moving through the area in a talk last week in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Marijuana is the most used drug in our region.

Prescription drugs are the most abused drugs in our area.

Meth is the biggest problem in our communities.

Those were just a few observations made by Jason Rosha, special agent in charge with the West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force during a recent talk with the Wadena Rotary. He along with other officers cover eight counties and nine cities in the region including Wadena and Otter Tail counties.

Rosha said the task force used to focus on drugs alone, but it was clear that drugs and violent crimes were so closely related in many cases that the task force changed to encompass both areas.

And how those crimes are pursued has changed in recent years with the use of social media. Rosha said in their work they write a lot of warrants. As so many deals are done via social media, 80-90 percent are now warrants related to social media accounts.

"It's really easy for someone in the drug world to become friends with someone else, who has a friend in St. Cloud who is their supplier," Rosha said.

With the click of a button, the two are friends and a drug deal can be set up from anywhere.

Drugs and violence

The problems stemming from many drugs, is that the users often lose their jobs and must do whatever they can to find money to feed their habits. That typically means breaking into homes, garages and storage units stealing valuables and selling them. While they used to go through pawn shops, many are finding it easier to sell on social media, on local swap and shop sites, Rosha said.

Speaking to the observations made by Rosha, Special Agent Jake Maros, an agent with the task force in Wadena County said he agrees that marijuana is the most used illegal drug in the region and he sees it as a gateway drug to other illegal drugs. But he also said 98 percent of his work revolves around meth.

"Wadena County has a lot of users," Maros said, concerning meth use. "Meth is king up here."

The other 2 percent of his time on the job is related to prescription drugs.

Maros said drug use in a poor county like Wadena is not unusual.

"It's easy access, it's easy money for the seller," Maros said. "Most of our arrests with users, they have their welfare EBT card with them. I don't like it when I see that, nor should anyone else. That's money they are getting from the state or county, they're buying drugs with it."

And the cost of those drugs are a bit higher in the rural parts of the region.

Drug costs

Rosha said the current drug market is fairly saturated with meth.

"They are making so much methamphetamine in Mexico and South America and shipping it in the United States that it's just saturating the supply," Rosha said.

Rosha said the location, source and amount determines the drug costs.

So an 8-ball, or ⅛ ounce of meth, is about 3.5 grams and would sell for about $125 in Alexandria. A gram of meth could go for about $100 in the same town. That's a habit that could cost the user about $100 a day.

But drive up Hwy 29 to Wadena County and that same gram is worth about $175-$200. An ounce of meth could go for $700-$1,000 around here, but only $200 in the Twin Cities. That's bit puzzling to Special Agent Jake Maros, Wadena County's drug task force agent.

"I wish I could tell you why," Maros said. In controlled buys, he shared that they could pay $100 for a gram of meth in Wadena, but just $60 in Alexandria.

Location, location

So many drugs are coming out of Minneapolis and moving to St. Cloud that St. Cloud is now becoming a distribution point to reach up Hwy 10, I-94 or Hwy 23, Rosha said. So when drugs are found in Wadena and Otter Tail counties, it doesn't take long to trace it back to St. Cloud in many cases.

"Ninety percent is brought here in a vehicle, another 10 percent is through the mail," Maros said.

Rosha said the task force helps by having many locations, too. They have connections in multiple cities to quickly trace the source of some drug distributors.

"There's so much correlation between these areas," Rosha said. Many of these people in Alexandria are the same people that have ties to people in Wadena County or Otter Tail County.

Maros lives by a certain motto in his line of work. "Infiltrate the dealer, find the supplier." So while he sees arresting a local buyer or dealer as a short-term success, he said it's just a matter of time before they are replaced. Other outcomes of those local arrests have led to fewer burglaries, Maros said.

"I don't think there's going to be a time ever where there'd be no drugs, but we can make an impact on the community by taking the large dealers out of play," Maros said.

The larger goal is to work with the local dealer to make the way up the chain, finding the source of distribution. He recalled one case, which started with 1 gram of meth locally and turned into 30 pounds of meth once they found the distribution. In another case, after just three connections, they had sourced the local meth to a Mexican supplier.

Most of the meth is coming from across the border, both agents agreed. When they do see local meth, it's in small quantities and it's low quality.

Maros said in the 90s, there were regular meth operations, but the saturation of high quality meth has made it almost non existent.

Legalizing marijuana

A question from the group of Rotarians brought up the topic of legalizing marijuana, a topic of great discussion at the state capitol.

Rosha said from his opinion and the opinions of other law enforcement people he knows, legalizing marijuana has many bad consequences, but he believes it's just a matter of time before it will happen.

He noted that in Colorado, social services staff are overwhelmed by people wanting help with their addiction to marijuana. Their hospitals are swamped because of overdoses and cheap housing is non existent as the amount of people working part-time or not at all has increased. Rosha stressed that you can get addicted to marijuana, and you can overdose on marijuana.

"We need to be very careful, it's a slippery slope," Rosha said.

Rosha said big trends in marijuana these days include edibles and wax that can be smoked in e-cigarettes.

Tip for youth

Maros sees cell phones as the worst tool in the world, keeping kids from getting out and doing great things.

He encourages kids to get involved, whether that be in sports or other activities. But simply having nothing to do from 3 - 5 p.m. has led so many youth to be introduced to smoking, and eventually other worse drugs.

"It starts with smoking a cigarette," Maros said. That leads to the next big thing and it keeps getting worse each time, he said.

"I've spoken to many a drug addicts in my five years," he said. "Most all of them say that first high they get off meth is the best high they've ever had, and they spend the rest of their life chasing that first high. They use more each time, to try to get that high and they never get it."