Drug overdose deaths doubled locally in 2021, while drug seizure amounts also increased compared to 2020.

The Minnesota Valley Drug Task Force, which covers the counties of Blue Earth, Nicollet, Watonwan, and Martin, released the data this week.

There were 12 overdose deaths investigations in 2021, according to the MVDTF release, double the six deaths recorded in 2020.  The victims ranged in age from 19 to a victim in their 50’s, according to taskforce Commander Jeff Wersal. He said the increase in deaths was predictable because fatalities have been going up every year for the last four years.

“Five or six years ago I could give drug presentations and tell everyone that we’re lucky that we haven’t had the opioid crisis hit here yet, and we haven’t seen the overdoses and deaths, but that’s no longer true,” said Wersal.  “It’s here.”

Wersal said a couple of the overdose deaths involved young people likely experimenting for the first time, based on conversations police had with friends of the victims.  “I truly believe it was the first time they had tried the stuff,” said Wersal.  “They experiment and don’t realize how dangerous it really is.”

The 2021 overdose fatalities led to 3rd-degree murder charges for four suspects, with other investigations still ongoing.

MRVDTF also recorded 97 non-fatal drug overdoses in 2021.  Wersal says opioids like heroin and fentanyl continue to be the cause of overdoses.

Seizure amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin also rose significantly in 2021. Wersal says he attributes the increase in meth seizures to the drug’s low cost.

Agents also report 59 drug arrests in 2021, 42 of those arrests for first, second, and third-degree levels, meaning the sale or seizure involved a large amount of drugs.

Thirteen non-drug arrests by the agency resulted in charges of 3rd-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and kidnapping.  Agents also seized 19 illegally-possessed firearms last year.

“I feel that the actual number of non-fatal overdoses in the community far exceeds the amount reported to law enforcement and EMS,” said Wersal in a press release.  “People need to continue paying close attention to their loved ones who may be struggling with addiction and help them in any way they can.


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